Revenue has never been higher, attendance has never been better, and baseball has never had a stronger international presence. Yet, with all of the prosperity, the game has rarely faced more significant problems, both in the headlines and deep within our communities. Steroid scandals, labor strife, self-centered superstars, a dramatic decline in the number of African American players and fans, constraints on Little League facilities and resources, and competition from trendier sports and entertainment options all threaten the foundations of our national pastime.
Dave Winfield knows and loves the game and he believes baseball can be rescued and revitalized. In Dropping the Ball, Dave presents his compelling plan of action for saving this great game from self-destruction. A respected role model and ambassador of the sport, Winfield outlines his strategy for making baseball the game he knows it can be: inclusive, empowering, and entertaining. He focuses on how to make the game more fan-friendly, and especially how to reach out to the African American community. From the commissioner's office to the kids on the street, Winfield examines the game from every perspective, offering ideas and solutions for diversifying front offices; marketing the game; developing community-based programs; and working out fair, creative, and lucrative parameters for the business of baseball. Dropping the Ball inspires readers to get out of the armchair and into the action.
Urbane and entertaining, this is a trenchant, thought-provoking, and uplifting analysis of what can be done -- by the baseball giants and by all who play and love the game -- to save America's national pastime for you, your kids, and your community.
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March 19, 2007
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Excerpt from Dropping the Ball by Dave Winfield
The Game I Love Is Hurting
Opening day, 2012.
A group of kids, fresh from a morning of pickup games at their neighborhood baseball complex (built by a partnership of sports, local business, and government interests), arrives at the major league ballpark early enough to sit in the box seats and watch batting practice. The stars of the game take time to give them some baseball cards, sign a few autographs, offer encouragement and some tips about how to make it to the majors, and even toss a few balls the kids' way. The kids -- and their parents -- also meet some MLB alumni who serve as team ambassadors and who answer questions and share memories (and some autographs, too) with the fans.
As batting practice gives way to fielding practice, the stands begin to fill with fans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, as culturally diverse as the players on the field, thanks to Major League Baseball's outreach and marketing programs aimed at minority communities. A few of those fans are enjoying their choice of hot dogs, sushi, and other ethnically diverse foods from the food stands, which now also offer healthy and vegetarian alternatives. In the upper deck, parents are teaching their kids how to score the game between innings at the park's interactive game areas and museums. The parents are also thinking back to that period in baseball history when the game on the field kept giving way to strikes, lockouts, ownership collusion, and owners deliberately fielding weak (and inexpensive) teams, maximizing revenue by minimizing salaries. Thanks to the commissioner and Major League Baseball working in cooperation with the Players Association, all that divisiveness is a thing of the past. The commissioner's office and Players Association have a feeling for the game, and its players are on the same page.
The owners and the Players Association worked out a mechanism that rewards top players and free agents for working within the baseball campaign as well as for performing community work -- even after they've gotten their huge, multiyear contracts. Of course, players still change teams, but the system now provides incentives for players to remain in one city for many years, long enough for fans to get to know and relate to their team and players -- or even for their entire careers, like a Tony Gwynn, a Kirby Puckett, or a George Brett. And Major League Baseball, MLB.com, marketing, international business groups, and the Players Association made an agreement to promote individual players and not just teams or the overall game, so the fans know much more about the new arrivals to their favorite teams.
The chasm between players and fans has vanished, as players demonstrate a newfound respect for their fans and for the game, and take a much more active role in their communities, visiting schools, hospitals, and service clubs like never before. As a result, players have regained respect and adoration from their fans. The players and their union have become much more aware of the players' responsibilities as role models in society (for which players now receive recognition and distinction) and, to that end, have crafted a successful drug-prevention program that includes drug testing and has all but eliminated steroids, amphetamines, and other performance-enhancing drugs from the game. Thanks to the cooperation between Major League Baseball and the Players Trust (an arm of the Players Association), the perception -- and the reality -- is that the game has truly been cleaned up, and the baseball players' ratings have skyrocketed as a result. The ballpark is using its boardrooms and facilities to assist community-based programs and partnerships that further baseball, the youth, and the community in general.