Inside Baseball

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Baseball fans are genetically programmed to complain about how baseball doesn't care about the little guy. (In other words, them.) Now, Major League Baseball is in trouble with fans, Congress and the FCC. That's because it hopes to make a $700 million deal with DirecTV so that the satellite provider would get exclusive rights to carry baseball's Extra Innings package.

Extra Innings lets a fan watch most of the out-of-market games being played every day. If, say, you were a Minneapolis native now living in Los Angeles, subscribing to Extra Innings would enable you to watch practically every Minnesota Twins game.

Extra Innings is now available through the Internet, on many cable systems, and on EchoStar's Dish and DirecTV. But if DirecTV gets the exclusive deal, fans would either have to get it via the Internet or switch to DirecTV. The deal wouldn't hurt folks in a team's hometown. They'd see games just as they always did.

The deal riles some others. One irate Chicago Cubs rooter who got Exta Innings from Dish wrote to CBS, explaining, “Now I have to decide if I want to go through the hassle of switching to DirecTV to see my Cubbies. I fear, in the end, my desire to see the Cubs will win over common sense and I'll switch.”

To which we say, Great! That's just competition. The DBS suppliers are competing against each other, against cable operators and telcos. DirecTV is simply trying to create an offer some customers can't live without. It's how business works.

Last year, about 600,000 people subscribed to Extra Innings. (Big deal. That's as many as visit the Frederick Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich., every year.)

So, in the big scheme of things, Extra Innings shouldn't be a problem big enough to need the attention of 435 Representatives, 100 Senators or even five FCC commissioners.

But, among others, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has asked the FCC to examine the deal, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says the agency will get right on it. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has a bobblehead of himself in a Boston Red Sox uniform, told B&C, “I'm very, very interested in the issue, and that's all I will say.” Not quite. He added, “I do subscribe to the MLB package on Comcast.”

Extra Innings would have the potential of reaching more fans if they left things as they are. But, practically, we think MLB and DirecTV should be free to make the deal. And as an alternative, we suggest that the disappointed Cubs fan consider tuning into ESPN's Baseball Tonight on a more regular basis.