Tuned out

Besides being hell bent on infuriating its best fans and having less people watch its games, Major League Baseball would also prefer if you stop calling to complain. If the FCC and Sen. John Kerry would stop threatening to investigate them, that would be good too.

Other than that, it’s full speed ahead for MLB, which appears to have offered a virtually impossible to complete proposal (and a tight deadline to do it) to the consortium of cable and satellite providers that distribute the Extra Innings package to die-hard and displaced baseball fans.

If that option isn’t met by March 31, then DirecTV will get exclusive rights to Extra Innings and all the hundreds of thousands of fans that Bud Selig called “ridiculous” two weeks ago will be out of luck when it comes to watching out of market games.

As long as they stop complaining to MLB President Bob DuPuy, no one in New York seems to care what happens with them.

“I hope that those fans who have been directing their concerns to us over the last several weeks will now encourage their cable carriers to in fact enlist for this package,” DuPuy told the Associated Press.

Actually, DuPuy is just trying a weak public relations campaign. He must consider his customers morons if he thinks they are falling for his attempt to shift the blame for this debacle off MLB and onto cable providers who almost certainly will fail to make a deal that was designed to fail in the first place.

The nearly completed exclusivity would cut the availability of Extra Innings from 82 percent of U.S. households to 16 percent. The reason why MLB would do this is far more confusing than the regular baseball fan should have to try to figure out.

That person is someone from, let’s say, Cleveland, who now lives in Atlanta but still wants to watch his Indians so he can enjoy an emotional attachment to his father, his sister and his boys back home. He is gladly willing to shell out $179.95 to do so.

Only now, he won’t be able to, unless he switches to DirecTV.

There is virtually no chance the current consortium of cable and satellite providers (InDemand) can maintain access based on baseball’s smoke-screen offer.

It isn’t just money – the difference between the offers was less than $1 million per year, per team. It mostly hinges on clearing prime space on cable systems for The Baseball Channel, which isn’t scheduled to launch until 2009.

If that means a guaranteed spot on first-tier basic cable, then forget it. The Baseball Channel promises to draw even more anemic ratings than the NFL Network since baseball isn’t even as popular as football. It would be ludicrous to bump a higher-rated channel in favor of one that isn’t yet created and promises to do far worse.

Robert Jacobson, president of InDemand, said in a statement the “conditions for carriage that MLB and DirecTV designed (will) be impossible … to meet.”

The only other hope is intervention by the federal government. But don’t count on Congress telling 30 billionaires they can’t do something. Plus, baseball will probably have better luck confusing politicians with this “it’s the cable operators' fault” smoke screen. “This should help enormously in that area,” Selig said. Yeah, no kidding.

Regardless, it seems that MLB has the right to freeze out and anger its customers if it wants. This is the Land of the Free and MLB is free to be arrogant, duplicitous and money-hungry if it so chooses.

And it so chooses.

Earlier this month Selig, whose customer-relations skills were clearly honed during his days as a used car dealer, called fan protests about the rumored deal “ridiculous” and just “a slight controversy, in some places.” Then Thursday DuPuy asked fans to stop complaining to his office and instead tell it to those helpful folks at the cable company.

I swear, long before steroids or misbehaving athletes kill sports, these supposed genius businessmen who care about dollars but have no sense will have ruined it.

Last year over half a million people subscribed to Extra Innings and MLB just sold them out for $2 a head, per team per year. So there’s the price of fan loyalty, a small Coke at the stadium. The league is pushing the “television” package on its website but it’s laughable to suggest watching a game on a computer equates with television.

So, essentially, it looks like DirecTV or nothing for Extra Innings viewers.

What Selig can’t understand is that while there are plenty of people out there who take television very seriously and are willing to compare and switch providers based on slight improvements, there are exponentially more who don’t and won’t.

They will always stick with what they have either out of loyalty, convenience or laziness. Maybe their wife and kids prefer the current system. Maybe they can’t afford a whole new package.

Maybe they are among the five percent of households that can’t use DirecTV at all, or the others where the reception is awful. Or they think a dish is ugly. Or maybe they live in an apartment and while, sure, there is a federal law allowing them to install something on the roof, this being the real world their landlord is against such a practice. And he can make life miserable.

Then there are the young or transient, who move every year or so and just aren’t going to invest in satellite.

There are a million reasons why they aren’t switching and a million more why they shouldn’t have to.

Yet baseball is not just trying to make them, Selig and DuPuy are saying they don’t care about them, their concerns or their past loyalty.

This is what happens when you listen to the suits and not the fans because a spreadsheet can’t measure passion. This is what happens when your commissioner likes to play the part of dopey every man, but is actually just dopey and out of touch like the rest of the rich guys.

MLB is selling its fans out for the price of a utility infielder, which is pretty stupid. Although not as stupid as Selig and DuPuy think you are.