The good news: Baseball is purportedly coming back. The bad news: Well, there’s more than enough of that to go around these days. On Monday, MLB owners unilaterally and unanimously voted to go ahead with a 60-game season starting the weekend of July 24th. They did so after the MLBPA rejected the owners’ latest offer, under the terms of the agreement between the parties from another age (March 26, 2020).
While we don’t have all the details yet, we have some. There will be no crowds, to exactly no one’s surprise. There will be expanded health and safety protocols. There will be many rule changes: putting runners on second base in extra innings, a universal designated hitter for 2020, a gradually reducing roster size, and more tweaks we’re sure to learn about in the immediate future. There’s a whole bunch of unknowns, like a certain Canadian team for which international travel restrictions need to be sorted. We’ll dig into the minutiae soon enough.
Whatever it looks like when the season actually starts, though, there aren’t really any winners in this deal, in this writer’s humble opinion. The owners attempted to pry endless concessions out of the players throughout the negotiating process. While one could feasibly muster up some form of sympathy for the fact that owners are losing a lot of money on their baseball investments, it’s a far cry easier for most of us to empathize with players who are being asked to put their health and potentially their lives at risk in order to entertain us and make bushels of money for those owners, even if the players are making a lot more money than the rest of us. The entirety of the owners’ playbook since the negotiations started has seemingly revolved around finding a way to get players to accept a smaller piece of a shrinking pie.
That should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, given the way that the owners have been attempting to chip away at spending in every single aspect of the game, even as profits have been growing league-wide. The minor leagues are particularly instructive, what with the shutting down of MiLB ballparks and the lobbying to exempt minor leaguers from minimum wage requirements. The owners clearly believe that baseball is a zero-sum game and have acted accordingly. That being said, the pettiness of the public debate over money was never going to be a good look for either side, with so many folks sick, dying and losing their jobs, and that was before the more recent collective uprising against a racist policing system made us take a longer, harder look at what’s actually important.
Returning the conversation to the confines of baseball, though, the nature of what’s gone down over this offseason also packs a mean punch when thinking about what’s going to happen in a future post-pandemic world. We’re going to be feeling the economic ramifications of this for a while yet, and the current CBA expires in 2021. The animus of these negotiations will not be forgotten by either side and the likelihood of a breakdown in future negotiations can’t be understated at this point.
I truly wish that the tentative news that baseball was coming back provided me with warm and fuzzy feelings, but I’m not really feeling this incarnation of baseball’s looming return in our current situation. It’s far from clear that this isn’t another ploy by the owners to simply look like they’re acting in good faith so that they can survive a grievance filed by the players’ union after the season is cancelled. Thanks to reopenings across the nation, we’re currently witnessing a surge of cases and it’s pretty clear that the potential for outbreaks amongst teams is very far from unrealistic, even with a ban on high-fiving and chewing sunflower seeds.
But that’s where we are right now, I suppose. An extremely wise anthropomorphic canine by the name of Dogbert once related to me that the key to happiness was low expectations and a bag of chips. 2020 has been a complete and total assclown of a year, and I, for one, don’t believe it’ll let up just because it’s almost halfway over. Am I excited to actually use my MLB.tv subscription I paid for months (years?) ago and watch some baseball? Yes. Am I extremely excited to write about the nonsense that’s going to happen in a 60-game season of baseball (with a much more lighthearted tone than the one employed in this article)? Oh god, yes. But I’m also going to keep a very large bag of deep fried potato slices at the ready.