The Cubs days on WGN may soon be over

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The broadcasting business has changed a ton in recent years. And it will change a ton in the near future. Change is pretty much the only constant, so looking back to some past time and saying that things should be like they were is silly and pointless. Still: there’s going to be some emotions and nostalgia when the Cubs, as it appears likely, cease to appear on WGN in the near future:

The Chicago Cubs have exercised an option to get out of their broadcast contract with WGN-TV after the 2014 season, sources said Wednesday.  The team notified the Tribune Co.-owned station on Tuesday it had 30 days to agree to substantially higher fees for the 2015 season and beyond, or the broadcast rights would be opened up for negotiation with other media, according to a source close to the situation.

The Tribune article talks about all of the money and angles in play. WGN could still be a player. Or not. But the days when WGN and the Cubs went hand-in-hand are probably over. Really, since the Cubs have split time with WGN and Comcast for the past several years, they likely were over already.

The same story played out with the Braves and TBS. Which, very much like the Cubs and WGN, made fans of people who lived nowhere near the team they came to love. Now, thanks to technology, geography doesn’t keep someone from following a team they used to love back home. And weird national followings like those experienced by the Cubs and the Braves are a thing of the past too.

Red Sox owner: “spending money helps”

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The other day Rob Manfred said, as he and other owners have said often in the past, that there is no correlation between payroll and winning. He said that defensively, in response to criticism of the slow free agent market of the past two offseasons.

As we have noted in the past, Manfred is not being honest about that. While, yes, in any given year there can be wild variation between payroll and win total — the Giants stunk last year, the A’s won 97 games — common sense dictates otherwise. What’s more, a recent study has shown that there is a pretty strong correlation between winning and payroll over time. Yes, you can fluke into a big season with a low payroll — Deadspin compared it to a cold snap occurring during a time of climate change — but if you want that “sustained success” teams claim they want, the best way to ensure it is to spend more money over time.

If you know anything about baseball labor history, though, you know well that the Commissioner and the owners will continue to mischaracterize the dynamics of the business as it suits them. Mostly because — present lefty sportswriters notwithstanding — very few people push back on their narratives. Fans tend to parrot ownership’s line on this stuff and, more often than not, baseball media acts as stenographer for ownership as opposed to critic. That gives owners a far greater ability to shape the narrative about all of this than most institutions.

Which makes this all the more awkward. From David Schoenfield of ESPN:

In apparent contradiction to his own commissioner, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said Monday that, while there is not a perfect correlation between a bigger payroll and winning, “spending more money helps.”

Which is right. The correlation is not perfect — teams can spend a lot of money on a bad team if given the chance and a low payroll team like the Rays can bullpen their way to 90 wins — but you’re way more likely to win year-in, year-out if you’re spending than if you go cheap all the time and hope for a miracle season.

Which is not to say that Henry is some labor activist owner. He and his fellow front office officials have a long history of backing the league office on just about everything that matters and will no doubt do so with labor matters in the runup to the next CBA negotiation. The owners tend not to have a solidarity problem.

But Henry does seem to draw the line at peddling baloney, which is a shockingly necessary thing when the league and the union’s relationship turns acrimonious.