If you are watching Friday's Orioles-Cubs game online through your MLB.TV subscription, as I am, you can see an ad behind home plate that is visible during virtually every pitch. "Kraft natural cheese," it says. "Cheesemaking experts for 100 years." It's all in caps so you can see it from the bleachers. This may provoke many thoughts and associations in you, among them that "cheesemakers" should probably be hyphenated (you would be wrong); it might bring to mind this exchange from Monty Python's "Life of Brian":
Spectator: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers".
Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.
Perhaps you might be wondering if the makers of Velveeta, both classified as a "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product" by order of the Federal government and a very strong argument that Darwin was wrong and man never evolved at all and is just a hairy creature with a high tolerance for toxicity, should forfeit any right to call itself a cheesemaker at all.
Chances are, though, that if you are in the Chicago market and sitting in front of a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or cell phone instead of a television set, you are not thinking anything about Kraft or the Cubs or yet another magnificent Jake Arrieta pitching performance. You are probably blacked out, because Major League Baseball and its MLB Advanced Media arm act in deference to each local broadcaster and/or regional sports network. This is spectacularly counterproductive because the blackout areas were created by someone with severe brain damage (see the map below), virtually ensuring that in several parts of the country one can see any baseball game except that which you would most likely want to see; it means Major League Baseball is frequently in the position of telling potential viewers, "F--k off and go do something else, okay? Either get it through your local cable provider or don't get it."
At a time at which MLB is chewing its fingernails over an aging fanbase, this is brilliant. As consumption of media moves more and more to Internet-enabled devices, that transition will be led by the young, the youngish. ANYONE NOT BASICALLY ON THE VERGE OF IMMINENT DEATH, okay? These are the same people that the Lords of the Game have been intent on alienating because they couldn't quite figure out how to satisfy their customers and their TV enablers simultaneously.
According to an Associated Press interview with MLBAM chief executive Bob Bowman, that may soon change:
"Everyone's trying to solve it," Bowman said. "If our hands were 4 feet apart three or four years ago, they are now 6 inches apart," Bowman said. "We're moving in the right way. We continue to talk. The dialogue is professional."
Well, that's a relief. You'd hate to think they were having an unprofessional dialogue, with MLBAM Executive Vice-President Merkin Muffley shouting, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
I have been to MLBAM headquarters; they have a War Room. They have Cones of Silence. They have elevators inlaid with bat-and-ball tiles, like a Roman bath on a yo-yo. They deserve it all; no one would argue that MLBAM is the greatest innovation of the Bud Selig era that he had nothing to do with. Not only is it reportedly a cash cow for Baseball, it has made it possible for those of us who, say, live in Yankees territory and want to listen to Vin Scully call a game, or folks who live in Los Angeles and want to listen to John Sterling. Of which there are none, but at least they have that option.
What people in Los Angeles have not been able to do, is listen to Vin Scully on their own computers. Actually, with the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable feuding, Dodgers fans can't watch anything anywhere, but imagine if Baseball had leadership that Bud Selig did have something to do with -- one that, y'know, aggressively dealt with customer-service issues. When it came to MLB.tv they'd still be screwed.
Still, if you love baseball, you can consume more than ever before. That's good. You're just prevented from enjoying what you might want to on the device of your choice, which is basically Communism.
Should Bowman actually get the problem solved -- and let's be clear, it is an unenviable position, having to navigate among 30 parties whose well-being depends on keeping their mouths glued to what Harlan Ellison called the glass teat -- that won't mean you can cut loose from cable and just subscribe to MLB.tv. In a process that should be familiar to anyone who has made use of HBO Go or a similar service from the subscription cable networks, you will have to vouch that you have an active cable subscription by signing in through your provider.
Of course, you can't get HBO without a cable provider and a subscription to the network itself, but once you've paid for that -- that is, your monthly cable bill including the price of HBO -- you can access HBO Go for no additional fee. Conversely, if the local cable games are available only through MLB.tv as opposed to the web sites of the RSN, you'd have to pay twice: Once for your cable subscription, once for MLB.tv. According to the linked article, that has yet to be determined.
Bowman said those details are part of the "6 inches" still to be narrowed in talks.
Maybe by next year, with an alert new commissioner, MLB will have found six inches of give for its fans by then. Or maybe you'll just have to keep watching the Padres whether you like it or not. Unless, of course, you live in San Diego.