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  • Boycotting the Indians sounds silly, but their fans may have reason after owner Paul Dolan bleakly commented on Francisco Lindor's future in Cleveland.
By Tristan Jung
March 25, 2019

Professional sports franchises, like governments, rely on a social contract to function. Fans sacrifice individual rights to invest emotionally and financially in local teams. For the freedom to enjoy less emotionally taxing pastimes, fans spend their income on the franchise instead of other pastimes. In exchange, the team’s managements tries to create entertainment, usually based around winning games.

The beauty of the social contract, as outlined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his 1762 treatise of the same name, is that governments must rule with the consent of the governed. Baseball teams aren’t selling foundational necessities–if every fan stopped coming to games or all the players stopped working, the owners’ billion-dollar industry would collapse.

Last year, the MLB featured eight teams that won fewer than 70 games. Two of those teams, the Orioles and the Royals, were historically bad. That trend is set to continue next year. Meanwhile, franchise valuations continue to rise and the cost to go to a ballpark isn’t falling. So, should fans exercise their right in the social contract to boycott? Here are five fan bases that should consider it:

Cleveland Indians           

In an interview with The Athletic, Indians owner Paul Dolan issued a bleak warning about the near future when asked about star shortstop and franchise face Francisco Lindor. “Enjoy him,” Dolan said. “We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we’ll see what happens.” Dolan also went onto say that the day the Indians issue a $300 million deal is the day is “when somebody else is doing $1 billion deals.”

Considering the Indians have baseball's top rotation and one of the best cores of young position players in baseball, a fan boycott seems absurd. But Dolan’s recent comments, refusal to bid in free agency and shopping of star pitchers have garnered plenty of criticism this offseason. It’s not like this team was flawless in 2018. They sleepwalked their way to the AL Central title in a dreadful division and were swept in the ALDS by the Astros (by a combined score of 21-6, no less).

With veteran outfielder Michael Brantley gone to the Astros and late-inning relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen joining the Cardinals and Angels, respectively, the outfield and bullpen needed to be addressed. The Indians responded by acquiring outfielders Jake Bauers and Jordan Luplow, who have a combined 584 plate appearances between them, and signing 37-year-old Oliver Perez. Their biggest offseason move was re-acquiring 32-year-old Carlos Santana, who endured arguably the the worst year of his career in 2018 with the Phillies.  

Some of the moves might work, but they’re hardly major additions for a pennant contender that hasn’t won the World Series in 70 years. To not spend with a team this stacked with talent and a massive drought must be infuriating—especially when the Dolan family has an estimated net worth of $5.5 billion. It’d be hard to boycott a playoff-bound team, but Dolan (uncle of Knicks owner James Dolan) deserves it, especially if things somehow go south in 2019.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Nuttings basically treat owning the Pirates, a storied franchise in a baseball-crazed city with plenty of loyal fans, as an exercise in ironic comedy. They refuse to spend anything and have wasted years of good talent by not spending anything. Remember the 2013 core of 26-year-old NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, 27-year-old local native Neil Walker, 22-year-old Starling Marte and 22-year-old Gerrit Cole?  Pittsburgh had the 20th-highest payroll in baseball that season. From 2014-2017, the team never reached higher than 23rd and even shrunk payroll after the '13 team logged the franchise’s first winning season and playoff win since 1992. Before the 2018 season, the team the team traded a franchise legend in McCutchen and budding star in Cole. They acquired Chris Archer last year, but have done nothing to add to the team since. They’re a primary offender of the “consent of the governed” concept. Multiple petitions to force the Nuttings to sell have been circulated this decade, and there will probably be another one at the start of 2019. Fan protests are already underway: attendance in Pittsburgh has declined and petitions have been floated.

Baltimore Orioles

Peter Angelos is one of the worst owners in professional sports. Through a combination of cheapness, mismanagement and poor luck, Angelos’ mismanagement and stinginess has run five decent cores into the ground during his time (his most successful move appears to be screwing over the Nationals in the MASN contract). The Orioles lost 115 games last season, so the cycle begins anew. Most casual fans turned off last year, and the 115-loss season and subsequent rebuild should give even the most diehard Orioles fan a reason to go to sleep early on most nights. There will be a boycott by default for the Orioles; organized fan action is nice, but unnecessary.

Miami Marlins

While the Marlins escape the bottom spot after finally ditching Jeffrey Loria, this ownership group has done little to inspire hope. They were allowed to buy the team despite being very clear their first move was to dismantle the team’s good on-field assets. While this Derek Jeter-fronted group should get some credit for not being Jeffrey Loria, it’s clear that this is not a new dawn for long-suffering Marlins fans. A boycott would be a good idea, but this franchise is too downtrodden for it to matter.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are in the midst of yet another rebuild. The past 18 years have been brutal for Mariners fans, and the directionless approach of the Stanton family has not helped. Whether the blame should go on Jerry Dipoto’s frenetic trades and changing vision, bad luck or ownership, in the end the buck stops with the owner. The Stantons have not made any significant big-name investments since buying the team in 2016 and have instead permitted multiple selloffs. With morale in Seattle at an all-time low, a potential fan boycott wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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