Spring Training Roster Rules
I learned something new today. Major League Baseball has roster rules for teams traveling to spring training games. Get outa here!
Teams tend to let their veterans stay home rather than go on bus trips. MLB in theory requires that at least four players be plausible starters. Teams tend to ignore this rule, and reportedly some are being fined, though it isn’t clear to me if the fines are large enough for the teams to care.
Modern spring training involves pretty significant money. Last year the average attendance was 8,388, all paying to get in the gate and then buying their hot dogs and beer. I find this astonishing. My favorite number is for the Tampa Rays, who average 5,360 per game. Compare this with their regular season average of 15,322. Or, for that matter, the fact that the Cubs average, at 14,549, nearly as many fans at their meaningless spring training games as the Rays do in the regular season.
The purpose of the rule is so that fans will see legitimate big leaguers rather than a collection of scrubs. This brings us to one of the fascinating aspects of baseball culture. Fans happily schlep a thousand miles to see meaningless pre-season games. Compare this with the NFL, with the perennial complaint of season ticket holders that those meaningless pre-season games are mandatory parts of the package.
It would be easy–and fun!–to turn this into a “baseball rules, football drools” bit, but in all honesty I have to figure that a lot of the attraction of spring training is the excuse to take a trip to a warmer clime. I get that. Football preseason games begin in August, before the worst of the summer heat and humidity has worn off.
Even so, I think this illustrates some of the differences between baseball and football. You don’t go to a football game to see a football game. If you want to see what is happening on the field, you will do far better to stay home and watch it on TV. You attend a football game for the group experience. That is a hard sell for a meaningless game.
Spring training is different. Even if you don’t care about the game you can enjoy the experience of sitting in the stands on a spring day, with the game providing a pleasant background. Modern minor league baseball is predicated on this business model, since not even twelve year old boys live and die by the fortunes of the Lansing Lugnuts. Or, if you want to see the up-and-coming youngsters, you can actually see what they do, and form your meaningless small-sample opinions accordingly.
Which brings us around to the question of do the fans actually care whether they are seeing starters in those games? Heck if I know. But it seems odd that they would. They will have plenty of opportunity to see those guys once the season starts. Seeing the prospects is the rarer opportunity for the serious fan, while the people there to sit in the sun won’t care either way. Anyway, the serious fan will attend his own team’s home spring training games, where his team’s starters will get more game time. This leaves us with a complaint that the game is noncompetitive, what with the home team’s starters facing the visitor’s scrubs. Are we seriously suggesting that fans are unhappy if their team wins too easily?
I could be wrong, but I think MLB has gone down a blind alley here. I would like to know: how large are those fines?