A Proposal For A Senior Baseball League

Every weekend of the summer half of the baseball stadia in North America stand empty, although many of the teams which play in those stadia desperately need extra income. At the same time there are players who stop playing because they have gotten a little too slow, don't hit or throw quite as well as they did 10 years before. The solution to both problems is a senior baseball league.

A senior baseball league would be composed of players of age 36 or older. The league would consist of 10 teams in 2 divisions. Each team would play a schedule of 36 games, playing each other team in the league 4 times, 2 games at home and 2 games on the road. The games would be played each weekend from the last weekend of April to the last weekend of August. Games would be played Friday night and Sunday afternoon each of those 18 weekends. The two teams with the best records would meet in a best of 5 game championship series played on 3 weekends of September.

Each team would consist of 22 players. The smaller roster would be possible because the teams would only play 2 games a week, therefore needing fewer pitchers than a major league team. By playing only 2 games a week, the players will have more time to heal small injuries and the cumulative hurts of playing a professional sport. By starting the season the last week in April, the major league teams will have vacated the training camps a month earlier, and the training facilities will be available for the senior teams thereby making better use of those facilities. Some of the players will be those who were among the cuts from the major league teams. By finishing the season the last week in August, the season will be over before the last weeks of the major league pennant chases and will not diminish the late season excitement of major league baseball.

There are, of course, reasons against forming such a league. The first is, will anybody pay to watch a bunch of has beens and never weres? I think they will. The PGA senior tour has become very successful. Fans want to see the star that they remember from years before. I think it will be the same in baseball. Fans would have paid to see Babe Ruth forever if he could have survived the pace. In a league that only plays 2 games a week, Ruth could have played at least another 5 years. When Big Mac decides to retire in a few years, there will still be fans who would come to see him play in the hope that he would launch one into the stratosphere. (thousands of fans in every city, and millions in revenue) The same will be true of Griffey, Clemens, Sosa, The Big Unit, and several dozens other players. Look at the loyal following that Jay Buhner has in Seattle, just count the inflated bones in the boneyard in right field, even when he is not playing.

The second problem is the control of the senior league. I would think that the senior league must be controlled by major league baseball, with the cooperation of the players union. I have suggested that only 10 teams make up the senior league. This is a practical consideration because it is unlikely that enough players will be available to staff more than 10 teams. Which franchises would be allowed to field a senior team? In the first place, some franchises will not have an interest in fielding a senior team along with a major league team. For the rest, I propose bidding for the senior franchises. The 10 highest bidders get the senior franchise. The proceeds from the bidding will be split equally between the 20 organizations that do not win a senior franchise, whether they bid for one or not. 10% of all other revenue of the senior league will be split among the 20 non-participating major league organizations - this will include gate revenues, tv rights, parking, concessions and souvenir income. This will begin a process of revenue sharing to save some of the weaker franchises. It is possible that some of the small market franchises will want to field a senior team, which may actually sell better in some cities than the major league teams do.

A third problem will be the relationship to the players union. A senior league will generate new jobs, but there may be a fear that it might be used as a lever to ease out some older players who are close to being vested in the pension fund. To avoid this the senior league should also contribute to the players pension fund, and salaries should be based on regular major league salary minimums. The minimum senior league salary should be 1/5 of the major league minimum. Contributions should be made to the pension fund at the same rate. One year in the senior league will equal 1/5 of a year in the major league for qualification for pension and vesting. There should be no maximum salary. Pay is based on "star quality" in the major league, and should be in the senior league as well.

Other questions will revolve around the "retired status" of the players. Clauses in player contracts should spell out the players right to return to the major league if offered a contract by a major league team. If the player leaves the senior team to play with a major league team, the senior team must be compensated by the major league team paying the senior team the full amount of the players contract, not just a pro-rated amount, and 10% of the income will be shared, as other revenues, with the organizations that don't own senior franchises. If a major league team uses the senior team owned by the same organization as a quasi taxi squad, it will make the payment of half the amount of the contract to the other teams in the senior league, and half of the contract amount will be paid to the other major league organizations which do not have senior franchises. Hall of Fame consideration may also be a problem. Hall of Fame eligibility should begin at once, but would have to be restarted if the player returns to the major leagues.

Players for the senior league do not have to be retired major leaguers. It may be that some career minor leaguers will make it in the senior league. There may even be players who never played professional baseball. Garth Brooks and Michael Jordan may be interested, and just might be able to make the team.

A senior league will provide players with a chance to extend their careers. It will utilize stadia that stand unused for half the summer. It will enhance the revenue stream to baseball. It will give the fans just that many more situations to argue about and dispute.

In short a senior baseball league makes a lot of sense.

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