Each passing day without Major League Baseball stands as a stain on America’s national pastime and represents a sad failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity for the game and the country. Today, we should be distracted from our work, glued to our televisions, computers, or smartphones watching otherwise meaningless spring training games with greater interest than ever before, in anticipation of the return to normalcy of the daily drama of baseball.
At a minimum, our ailing nation could use the entertainment of skills competitions, or a reprised “home run derby” series. Baseball in any form, that most cherished spring-fall companion, would provide a needed respite from the mundane of the everyday grind that has only been accentuated by the effects of the Chinese coronavirus.
Instead, MLB’s folly is coming into clear view as June comes and goes. Players, owners, and the league remain unable to come to terms on an agreement to play ball while engaging in an ugly, short-sighted, and ultimately damaging public confrontation.
Historically, if you are a fan of virtually any team save for the New York Yankees or St. Louis Cardinals — and especially like me if you stay true to the New York Mets orange and blue — June marks the transition of a once-promising season to a long, hot summer of pain, suffering, and humiliation.
For this Mets fan, my mid-month birthday stands as a milestone of franchise futility — a reminder that it has been more than three decades since a summer in which a world championship club graced the meadows of Flushing, the remarkable exploits of which I never got to witness. Yet even if you are as jaded and tormented a fan as I am, I suspect you, like me, would give anything right now to once again have your hopes dashed, and heartbroken.
This year, even the most spoiled of fans, blessed with allegiances to the winningest of franchises, face agony. Through natural disasters, civil strife, economic calamity, and world wars, baseball has always marched on as a joyous diversion. No matter what was happening in your life or the world, you could always count on an unscripted three hours each night that would guarantee you something you had never seen before — one installment of 162, comprising the glorious narrative arc that is a Major League Baseball season.
Today, baseball stands still. It’s worse than no joy in Mudville. There’s no Mudville at all.
With each passing week, the prospects of anything resembling a season fades. At this point, even the best we could hope for is a rump schedule. The American pastime is blowing a golden opportunity to stand as the only game in town, in the process bringing a semblance of normalcy back to the nation, and positioning itself for a renaissance.
For years, even as revenues have risen, many have feared, with good reason, that baseball was dying. “The game is too long,” they say, and people’s attention spans “too short.” Some argue advanced analytics have not only generated infinite pitching changes — which, in turn, lead to drawn-out games — but replaced the humanity of the sport with something more automated and artificial. This is to say nothing of the scandals, including the one poised to loom over this season.
But for all of the game’s problems, some real and some perceived, at a time the country craves sports, that baseball could have led the nationwide restart should have been too enticing a chance to pass up. Baseball has a unique opportunity to reward loyal fans and create scores of new ones; to showcase its richness, history, and electrifying talent; to unite our beleaguered states over something that transcends our differences. We should have been preparing to celebrate July 4 with Opening Day.
Instead, what we are seeing in the acrimonious back-and-forth between the players, the owners, and MLB in the early stages of a long-term labor dispute. Make no mistake, the current baseball standstill persists because it represents the opening round of negotiations concerning the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that governs the game, slated to expire after the 2021 season.
The gist of the dispute comes down to this: Given a truncated schedule, played in front of fewer fans than ever before, and thus where revenues and profits are going to absolutely crater, how should players and owners split the pot of substantially reduced money? There is more to it than this, of course, as there were many areas of disagreement between players and owners that had been bubbling to the surface in recent years. The current standstill represents a crescendo to the conflict that’s been a long time coming.
All sides should realize the potential benefits gained for everyone involved by coming to some form of ceasefire far outweigh the costs of butchering this season. Instead, the billionaire owners, super agents, high-flying lawyers, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicists who run the game are imprudently throwing away — among other things — untold future billions of dollars by forestalling or even postponing this season.
Baseball could be growing goodwill that would accrue to the benefit of everyone involved in it by playing today. Millions of people could be being introduced to the elation of walk-off home runs, the curiosities of lineup construction and bullpen management, and the high drama of pennant races. There has long been talk of the fact that the game has not done enough to promote its stars, yet there is infinite young, exceptional talent sitting idle, all of whom could be getting unprecedented national attention.
Although purists like myself would abjure any of the numerous tweaks to the game that have been bandied about, we would have been content to see them tried, only to crash and burn in a shortened season.
Instead, baseball is tottering when it has every chance to thrive and squandering a rare chance to reinvigorate the game. It’s a shame for the sport, and more importantly for the country. And for those long-suffering fans awaiting a championship, like the Brooklyn Dodgers faithful of yesteryear would say, this may well be the cruelest “Wait ‘til next year!”