With the COVID-19 pandemic subsiding in many parts of the country, the NBA has revealed a plan to finish out its season. The NHL has done the same. The NFL is sending out timetables and health-safety guidelines for the opening of training camps in anticipation of starting the season on schedule. College football players are slowly returning to campuses across the nation for, um, voluntary summer workouts, also with tight safety restrictions in place.
Major League Baseball?
It has done nothing. Well, except argue.
No one should be surprised that MLB and the players union can't agree on an economic structure or a regular-season/playoff format for how to complete the 2020 season, which ended abruptly in mid-March with two weeks left in spring training. That's because baseball's owners and players have never been able to agree. On anything.
If we didn't know better, we'd be screaming at the top of our lungs: What are you people thinking?
There are out-of-work people struggling to put food on the table due to our coronavirus-ravaged economy and there are people of all hues marching in the streets to protest racial injustice and you are publicly arguing over a few hundred million dollars in a business that generates more than $10 billion a year? Do you have any idea how bad that looks? How selfish? How out-of-touch?
Sadly, we do know better. We've seen this act so many times before that nothing surprises us anymore.
The owners and players reaching a compromise for the good of the game? Perish the thought.
Baseball playing a role, however small, in our nation's recovery from economic and civil strife? Apparently not a major concern.
The biggest concern now is the clock is ticking. Even if the impasse ends and an agreement is reached quickly, MLB and the players union have already dropped the baseball. Just two weeks ago, there was a belief teams could return to camps Wednesday and begin preparations for an 82-game regular-season — about half the usual total — that would start on July 4. Clearly, that's not going to happen now.
Many in baseball, including the owner, general manager and manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, have said they believe baseball will be played this season. When, where and how much baseball remains to be seen.
We do know that baseball already has forfeited a significant opportunity because it can't get out of its own way. With an early July start, MLB could have beaten all major professional team sports back to the playing field. Sure, the season would be truncated and the playoff field probably would be expanded, but sports-starved fans would have focused on the sport if only because it wouldn't have had any competition for the first month or so.
Instead of seeing baseball on our television sets, however, all we're getting is a series of proposals and counterproposals, none of which moves the process any closer to a resolution. The sides remain so far apart one gets the idea the owners and players couldn't agree on whether or not the outfield grass is green.
The argument, per usual, is about money. Since it is likely there will be no fans in the stands and the only major revenue source this season will be television money, the owners are arguing the players should take a prorated portion of their per-game salaries. The players are saying they agreed to a full prorated salary for each game that is played in a deal between the sides that was reached on March 26. Playoff pay is another battleground since government officials are expecting a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall and it's conceivable the playoffs could be shortened or canceled.
If no agreement is reached, MLB's stance is the March 26 agreement gives it the right to implement a 48- to 54-game season that will pay players their full prorated salary for each game. So it appears there will be some baseball after all. Assuming the players show up for work, that is.
Baseball has enjoyed a stretch of relative labor peace since the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series. However, the contentious relationship between the owners and the union goes back 50 years, which is when Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause in court. There remains as much disagreement and distrust between the sides as ever, perhaps even moreso now.
As the deadline for a meaningful baseball season fast approaches, the sides seem far apart. But no matter who you think is right or wrong in baseball's ongoing labor troubles, it doesn't change the reality that there is no baseball for fans and there won't be any for while, which is a shame for a country that could use any sort of normalcy it can find while it heals.
Some have said a very short season or no season at all would do permanent damage to the sport, that baseball will lose fans over this. However, there is no historical precedent for that, in baseball or any other sport. No, baseball will survive — and thrive — upon its return. It's just too bad the owners and players don't understand that there are bigger issues than money on the table right now.