REVENUE SHARING RISES OUT OF THE STRIKE ASHES
REVENUE SHARING BACK THEN: Maybe the home team served a few hot dogs in the visitors' clubhouse. But that was about it.
REVENUE SHARING NOW: It takes true creativity to be a have-not these days -- when MLB keeps sending you checks. In a sport that now shares $300 million worth of revenue a year, some teams rake in more than $50 million before they sell a ticket (if we include all their national TV, radio, Internet, satellite and central-fund bonanzas). Maybe that hasn't turned this sport into the NFL. But three of the last four World Series winners ranked below the top 10 in payroll. Which is no coincidence. Think nothing good came from that strike in 1994-95? Wrong. The revenue-sharing ball might never have started rolling without it.
BASEBALL TONIGHT (THE HIGHLIGHT AGE)
HIGHLIGHTS BACK THEN: Can you say, "Film at 11"?
HIGHLIGHTS NOW: If Ichiro impales himself on the scoreboard to rob Vlad Guerrero of a homer some night, how many seconds later will you find yourself seeing him do it for the first time? How many minutes later before you've phoned eight buddies to say: "You've gotta see this?" How many replays later until everybody from Tucson to Tokyo has the image tattooed into the TiVo in their brains? Twenty-five years ago, it didn't work this way. "SportsCenter" had existed for only 17 months. "Baseball Tonight" was 12 years away. People didn't have this feeling then that they'd seen it all, heard it all and knew it all. The Highlight Age has sure changed that.
WHAT'S A DEVIL RAY?
(TWO EXPANSIONS/ NO CONTRACTIONS)
THE EXPANSION LANDSCAPE BACK THEN: A quarter century ago, the Blue Jays and Mariners had existed for only four seasons -- but had still managed to lose 813 games between them. So who wanted any more teams like that?
THE EXPANSION LANDSCAPE NOW: Let's see. The Devil Rays are trying to change their name. The Diamondbacks have run up more debts than Courtney Love. The Marlins are rumored to be moving everywhere from Vegas to Reykjavik. And the Rockies have found it easier to deaden baseballs in a humidor than to assemble a who-needs-sea-level pitching staff. So apparently, expanding twice in five years wasn't such a brilliant idea in retrospect. But hey, who knew? It seemed like a better idea when Florida and Arizona were winning the World Series. And it seemed like a really, really awesome idea to the MLB accountants when those four teams wrote out $450 million in expansion-fee checks.
CAN YOU SPELL MRI?
(MODERN MEDICAL ACCOUTREMENTS)
MODERN MEDICINE BACK THEN: They had their doctors, their trainers, their surgeons and their X-ray machines. So it wasn't exactly the Stone Age. But 25 years ago, pitchers who hurt their arms were still being told to "rub some dirt on it." And any trip to the surgeon could potentially end a guy's career.
MODERN MEDICINE NOW: There's an MRI machine on every corner, isn't there? Arthroscopes and lasers zap injuries that used to sideline players for months, even years. Stars hire their own traveling personal trainers. Team workout rooms make L.A. Fitness look like a two-treadmill hotel gym. And it's amazing how many players know a labrum from a lumbar.
(INTERNET BASEBALL COVERAGE)
BASEBALL COVERAGE BACK THEN: Anybody seen a good out-of-town newsstand?
BASEBALL COVERAGE NOW: There is still nothing better than a great newspaper sports page. But ... now think what you can learn anytime you want by launching yourself into cyberspace. Without ever leaving this site, you can check every box score (before the game is even over). Call up your own personal out-of-town scoreboard. Watch a game in a different time zone live. Locate a link to every baseball story in every major newspaper. Even peruse scintillating columns like this one -- and then vote on whether we're out of our minds. Sheez, is there any better innovation than the land of www?