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Kevin Youkilis Discusses The Big Issue With Baseball

BOSTON (CBS) -- Baseball has its issues. Everyone knows that right now, as the sport does seemingly everything possible to bring on its own demise.

Once the country's most beloved sport, baseball has since lost its "America's Favorite Pastime" moniker to football. The NBA is more popular as well, both nationally and worldwide. If it wasn't for hockey, baseball would sit in fourth place among the four major sports in the U.S. -- and that battle for the bottom is a lot closer than anyone would have expected just a decade ago.

Now, with it looking like there won't be a baseball season as players and owners engage in a heated -- and lengthy -- battle over the number of games to be played and player salaries, the game is truly circling the drain.

Yet those in charge don't seem too enthusiastic to change anything about the sport in hopes of making it more appealing to younger audiences. And if you ask those who played the game, that is the biggest issue with baseball at the moment.

Former Red Sox infielder and two-time World Series champ Kevin Youkilis is among that group, saying those in charge don't love the game the way that they should.

"We have a serious issue within our sport right now, that there are so many people that aren't baseball lifers," Youkilis told WBZ-TV's Dan Roche on Tuesday. "I think that that's one of the problems we've had, we've eliminated a lot of good people that truly love the game. And we've written them off and said they don't know anything because they don't understand new data or the new way of thinking. I think there's a way that we could mix both into the sport while not just fully eliminating baseball people. And I think we've seen more people come into the industry that might not necessarily be in it for the right reasons. I think that's where it gets really scary and I think there's a lot of people that are upset and hurt by the fact that the sport is kind of moving in a different direction.

"For me, I understand that progress is made as the game evolves. But why are there less viewers than there ever has been before?" questioned Youkilis. "That is where we need to sit down, talk about it and and think about where this game is going and how do we maintain both the integrity of the game and the fan base of the game?"

Among those "outsiders" is commissioner Rob Manfred, who doesn't seem very interested in saving the game at the moment. Players have vehemently accused Manfred of catering only to the owners, which hasn't helped the current stalemate. Youkilis said that what has upset him the most is the flip-flopping by Manfred, who just last week guaranteed that baseball would be back in 2020. But on Monday night, Manfred backed off that stance and said he didn't feel confident about there being baseball any time soon -- again putting the blame on the players.

"I think that's where I got the most upset, when you hear somebody say they are 100 percent certain and then a couple days later they say they are 100 percent it's not going to happen. And if you followed that five day period and saw all the negotiations on both sides of what they said or what was leaked -- and I think that's the biggest problem we have right now, the leaks in society, both baseball and everywhere, is such a problem," he said.

"The leaking is causing way more issues and emotions that don't need to be," he said, putting blame on both the players and the owners. "There are plenty of players that have gone out there and tweeted and put stuff out there that they shouldn't have. And there's also people feeding the media. I think if you sit behind closed doors and you tell people, 'Hey, don't put it out there, don't tell the media. Let's get this done.' It would really help out the cause."

Unfortunately, Youkilis doesn't think they can fix baseball right now. A 48-game season would not just rob fans of baseball, but teams the true meaning of the full schedule.

"To crown somebody the World Series champion after playing 48 games, it goes against basically what the 162-game season is about; the team that from day one to day 162 gets through all the adversity, the injuries to the slumps to the losing streaks," he said. "With 48 games, you might see a team that is really talented not make the playoffs and a team that's less talented make the playoffs because they got a hot group."

Youkilis said the biggest issue in the game is pace-of-play, and the break between every half inning does the game no favors.

"I think one of the biggest issues is players are ready to play, but the problem is the advertising in between the innings," he said. "And I get it, advertisements pay the players, pays for all the stuff or all the items within, but I think that the hard part is that if we don't try these things to get the pace-of-play in a better direction, people might not just like baseball as much as they used to, because it is a slower sport."

Youkilis understands the anger from fans, but asks that those angry at players at the moment ask a little more from team owners, who have consistently refused revenue sharing with those who actually play the game.

"There's an argument that these guys are millionaires against the billionaires, and they use the money. Players have no chance; that's a losing argument every single time," said Youkilis. "We are very privileged to play a sport and I hate when people say this, 'It's just a game.' Somebody did that on Twitter, and I asked, 'Have you ever played a game where a 95 miles per hour fastball hit you in the head?' I've never played a game like that. I don't think anyone's ever played a game like that. It's more than just a game -- it is a full on profession, it is work.

"It is hard. There's injuries. I've had four surgeries from it. I don't walk and I don't wake up right. I'm 41 years old and I wake up sore I have problems. I have issue, But it was well worth it," he said.

"Yes, these guys are making a lot of money. But I also tell people that players are fighting for 50 percent of revenue. That's always been the fight, that we think that we deserve 50 percent of the revenue made by the owners," he said. "The owners don't open up the books; they have never opened up the books to show anybody how much they truly make, and players are just fighting for what is what they think is fair. What we have found that is we've been below the 50 percent mark in revenue with how much salaries are paid for years.

"I think it's hard for people to understand because of they see a $200 million, $300 million long term contract. But I think fans just have to understand that what we want to do, we think that if they're going to charge you all this money, it should go to the entertainment versus going in the owners pockets," he said.

Youkilis is a now a small-business owner, running Loma Brewing Company in California, and lost a lot of business during the coronavirus pandemic. He doesn't feel bad for MLB owners who are crying about lost revenue at the moment.

"[Business owners everywhere] are taking losses right now. I'm taking it on the chin knowing that if I can keep my business open, when COVID is over I can gain in the end. Listen, small business owners like myself -- and thousands of us around the country -- are taking losses right now. I don't feel bad on that because some of these [baseball] owners had their companies go from $500,000 to $2 billion. [Cardinals president] Bill DeWitt said that baseball doesn't make any money and that is absolutely crazy. That is a crazy statement that needs to be addressed and fact-checked."

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