Baseball: Who cares?
Last week commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN that, one way or another, Major League Baseball will happen in 2020 with a certainty rate of “100%."
On Monday, Manfred admitted to ESPN that he’d talked out of turn.
On Friday the owners, who are Manfred’s bosses, offered their latest proposal to the players union, which detailed their latest scheme by which they would deprive the players of as much money as possible and renege on their three-month-old agreement. They gave the players 48 hours to respond. The players needed just 24 hours to laugh in their faces.
On Monday, in typical, ham-handed MLB fashion, Manfred backpedaled: “I’m not confident,” he said, then added, with typical MLB hyperbole, “It’s just a disaster for our game.”
Again, Manfred works for 30 ownership groups so wealthy that they could tell you how much Land O’Lakes is worth before they could tell you what a gallon of milk costs. His latest hand-wringing declaration is aimed at demonizing players with five-year earning windows against owners who mostly inherited their obscene wealth and will pass it on, likely for centuries.
Will any of this sour fans on the game? Will it matter, in the big picture, if baseball doesn’t have a season?
Fans already believe the owners are out-of-touch billionaires and the players are spoiled millionaires, and in this regard the fans are right, yet still, they watch. Yes, baseball attendance has steadily declined over the last five years, but that’s been the case, to some degree, for all major sports.
This disillusionment with baseball crystallized during the strike of 1994 and 1995, which laid bare the arrogance of both sides. Since then baseball has muddled through a steroid epidemic and is now enduring a sign-stealing scandal. Shrug.
The real issue lies with how the game is played, not its indiscretions. Thanks to a worship of analytics, baseball fans have watched the game devolve from its beautiful, balletic origins to a pitch-counting mash-fest that seeks the game’s most boring outcomes: the walk, the strikeout, and the home run.
Modern baseball is about as exciting as Murder, She Wrote, and far more predictable.
If a season happens then baseball will still get a head start. It won’t be the symbolically significant Fourth of July start date, but, as usual, the owners remained too obtuse and too greedy to utilize even the most elementary of marketing concepts.
It will take Major League Baseball roughly a month to prepare its spring training sites and execute an abbreviated spring training, which, if the ball begins rolling this week, would give MLB about two weeks of nightly exclusivity. The PGA Tour returned last week, and NASCAR came back last month, but neither feeds the sports appetite like the four major sports. (All apologies to Major League Soccer, which restarts July 8, God bless it.)
No one but the most rabid fans would notice if there is no 2020 baseball season. The game will presumably have its moment during that two-week window, and everyone will revel in those hot dog and apple-pie feelings, but, really, that will be it. Basketball, hockey, and football will overshadow baseball.
The NBA restarts July 30. The NHL will be close behind. Every minute of every game played by both leagues will impact playoff eligibility and seeding, and then they’ll be in their playoffs. NFL and college football training camps will be in full swing by then.
Nobody’s going to be interested in a three-hour Phillies-Marlins game on a 90-degree August night.
Once the winter sports finish, football will make September baseball irrelevant (again) in all but a few markets. The owners had a chance to make this less true than usual, but their negotiation shenanigans ruined any chance of the players’ agreeing to expand from a 10-team postseason to a 16-team postseason.
I mean, it’s as if MLB seeks ways to promote the NFL.
It’s not that baseball isn’t important. It is. It’s just no longer our religion. It used to be, but football now wears those robes.
Football is fast and fun and violent and inclusive and egalitarian -- all the things baseball once was. Even in its current state of awfulness, with defensive shifts and pitcher abuse, baseball’s a better game than football; it’s just not as accessible. It has become what you watch when nothing else is on.
Like football was in the ‘70s.
America is in the middle of a pandemic, accentuated by social upheaval over racism and law enforcement, in a nation that is more divided than it has been in three generations.