Too much has happened to make the news celebratory. It is even a stretch to call it a relief. We learned Monday evening, after a rejection vote by the players that was followed by a unanimous resolution vote from the owners, that there will be a baseball season in 2020. We do not yet know the details, but we are sure this season is not going to be anything to get excited about.
It will be like the Fourth of July without fireworks, Christmas without the family and New Year’s Eve without a midnight kiss.
That’s too bad because a lot of Phillies fans were looking forward to this season in February and March. People were eager to see if new manager Joe Girardi’s career-long trend of winning would continue in Philadelphia. The Phillies appeared to be building confidence in Clearwater, Fla., before everything was shut down in mid-March by the coronavirus.
From the beginning of the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, I was opposed to the idea of a season without fans because the theater of the game is just not the same without them. Having watched the KBO play in empty stadiums with masked cardboard cutouts and having watched golf without galleries, it has only confirmed my belief that the games are listless without the people who care about them so much on hand to watch.
After such a long time without baseball, however, I was willing to concede that I’d rather see games without fans than no season at all.
At one point, I even liked the idea of a Florida and Arizona season with a one-year realignment based on the geographical locations of each team’s spring-training site. I thought it would have been cool to have Girardi’s Phillies in the same division with his former team, the New York Yankees. We now know, of course, that idea would have likely led to the cancellation of the season based on the recent coronavirus spikes in Florida and Arizona that resulted in at least five Phillies and three of the team’s staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
That should have been reason enough for baseball’s owners and players to stop their bickering over money and pull the plug on the season.
Instead, even after the sobering news about the players from the Phillies and several other teams testing positive, the two sides continued to bicker. Some thought the players’ 70-game counterproposal late last week to the owners’ 60-game proposal might lead to a 65-game compromise, but anyone who thought that had not been paying attention to the contentious nature of the negotiations.
So the players union gathered Monday night and the 38-member executive board voted by a 33-5 margin to reject MLB’s 60-game proposal and put out a lame statement that will allow the players to file a grievance that claims the owners did not negotiate in good faith.
A few hours later, the owners voted to proceed with the season under the terms of a late March agreement that has routinely been disagreed upon by the players union over the last few months. If that is, in fact, what happens then the season will be between 48 and 60 games and will likely start in either late July or early August. It’s possible some players will decline to play, although that would completely undermine the “when and where” pleas they were spreading on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.
The whole thing is infuriating. Rest assured, however, that the coronavirus is still going to have a voice in the 2020 baseball season. It is not going away just because the owners finally have given the go-ahead to play.
Cases are spiking in Arizona, Florida, California, and Texas, four states that house one-third of the 30 major-league teams.
“I know there are guidelines for what the players can and can’t do, but do you really think all of these guys will follow them?” a baseball source said recently. “Do you really think none of them will go out in a city that is open after a road game?”
The answer is no and the Phillies’ coronavirus outbreak last week in Clearwater is the perfect example of how fast and how far and wide COVID-19 can spread.
It’s impossible to get excited about something that could lead to the tragic loss of a life that could be avoided.
You will hear the argument that young, fit athletes will surely recover from the coronavirus and that’s probably true in most cases. But it’s also true that much remains unknown about COVID-19 and its potential long-term effects.
The virus has cast a pall on this season, but it does not deserve all the blame for what’s sure to be a lackluster response to the news that baseball is apparently going to be played this season.
The bickering between the owners and players has reminded those of us old enough to remember what labor relations used to be like in baseball. Work stoppages came along almost as frequently as leap years, but for 25 years the owners and players found a way to get along.
Those good feelings have been flushed and it seems like a foregone conclusion that there will be another work stoppage when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season.
For now, however, baseball is back, but the hope that it might look different than before is likely gone. There will be a universal designated hitter, but no expanded playoffs.