Book Review: Fair Ball by Bob Costas
- Updated: April 20, 2009
Bob Costas is probably best known for his Olympic commentary over the years, but he has really been a renaissance man and announced everything from baseball to football in this country. Costas put out Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball in an attempt to tell baseball how it could fix its problems and become the premier sport in America once again. Costas makes some good points in the book, but he also makes it clear that he should not quit his day job as a broadcaster to become a writer. This is not to say that there is not some merit to what Costas has to say in his book, but some of the points he attempts to convey don’t seem to be presented in the best way possible.
When one is reading this book, it is important to remember that it was written in 2000, and was thus published before any of the major steroid allegations hit the fan. This is important to note since Costas is still, at this time, enamored with what happened in the 1998 season when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ single season homerun record. If one does not take this into account, Costas comes of as completely incompetent, but if one can remember how they felt during 1998 and the few years after, they will probably be able to relate to Costas’ feelings at this point.
Costas starts the book by going over what happened in 1993 to lead to the strike shortened season in 1994. He lays out his own plan for what should have happened, but also reminds fans about what did happen in order to illustrate how this might be able to be avoided in the future. He does not place the blame for the strike squarely on the shoulders of the players or the owners, but he makes it very clear that the situation should never have gotten to the point where players decided to strike. If there seems to be one entity that Costas does end up blaming in this situation, it’s the players union who he claims is rarely looking for what’s best for the game and is instead just looking out for what’s best for them at that moment.
Perhaps the best example Costas provides to prove this point is when he is discussing what should be done with the designated hitter much later in the book. He claims that baseball made an offer to the players association where the DH would he phased out of line-ups in exchange for an extra roster spot on every single team in MLB, even those in the National League that didn’t have a DH to begin with. One would think the player’s union would be for this plan since it would guarantee 30 more major league jobs per year, but they were not able to get past the individual money that these designated hitters might be able to make and were not willing to go along with the plan.
Costas spends an amazing amount of time in the book talking about the current post season system and how there is so much wrong with it. Many have agreed with his points about the playoffs carrying too late into the year and the games starting too late in the day so that children on the East coast have to miss the games because of their bed times, but Costas goes much farther than that. The broadcaster shows how much of a baseball traditionalist he truly is when he adamantly opposes the advent of the Wild Card throughout the book.
He spends more time on this subject than anything else, and probably hurts his own argument, on the subject by not letting his ideas stand in one section of the book, but instead rambling on and on about it in many chapters. While some parts of his argument are valid, if one takes a good look at what he is arguing, they will notice that not only would it really be financially bad for baseball and the television networks for baseball to follow his plan, but it will also be a bad thing for many fans across the country who have found joy with their team due to the wild card.
Another one of the major topics Costas spends a lot of time on in this book is revenue sharing. In this section, he provides a pretty good plan that would be able to, perhaps, level the financial playing field to some extent. His ideas of how to share the merchandising revenue as well as the ticket sales are solid and should be given a serious look by those heads in baseball. He hurts his argument, though, by suggesting a salary cap. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be one in baseball, but one should note how MLB heads like Bud Selig react when this question is asked and realize that bringing this up would just hurt any argument about anything.
The broadcaster does at least acknowledge that if there is a salary cap ceiling, there does have to also be a floor so that teams are not paying 25 players the league minimum and putting a bad product on the field for fans.
Overall, Fair Ball provides a unique look into what needs to be altered in baseball. It is important that people realize these ideas are truly Costas’ opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. If he would not have spent an inordinate amount of time on the subject of the Wild Card, the book would have been much more enjoyable and his points would have been much easier to take seriously.
The Grade: 3.25/5
Bill Jordan is a contributor to BaseballReflections.com. He can be reached by e-mail at BillJordaniv@yahoo.com.