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MLB owners are damaging their own brand and don’t seem to care

We might have a 2020 season, but baseball now has major self-inflicted wounds.

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Al Yellon

I know, I know, I’m going to sound like the proverbial broken record here. But I feel I have to say this again.

Baseball had a chance to be a major part of the USA’s recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic, and perhaps even begin on one of the country’s biggest holidays, Independence Day. The symbolism of such a thing would have been a huge plus for Major League Baseball, and likely would have given the sport the national sports stage for itself, for a few weeks, anyway.

Instead, we are reduced to listening to owners and players squabbling like a couple of people arguing over a parking space at the local mall. Only they don’t realize that the mall is in financial trouble and might wind up being closed before they can even get inside.

Thus we have this as the latest possibility for some sort of baseball season:

Fine and dandy, I guess, considering owners only yesterday proposed a 76-game season, and the midpoint of that and the players’ latest proposal of an 89-game season is about 82, and if either of these parties had any sense they’d have agreed to that weeks ago and we’d be preparing for that right now.

I’ve spent some time recently talking about the money that divides players and owners making an agreement and honestly, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to rehash all that here. I will say only that in the grand scheme of things, the differences don’t seem too much to bridge. There seems to be room for compromise here, except that “compromise” doesn’t appear to be something these folks are interested in doing.

What I do want to do here is quote from another article in The Athletic by Jayson Stark, a writer who really does care about baseball, as opposed to the attitude I sense from some team owners. This gets right to the point:

I wrote a column a week and a half ago that flowed from a similar place in my soul. That headline read: “Memo to baseball — don’t drive off this cliff!” I heard from so many people in the sport after I wrote that column that I lost count. But one of them was a man named Jim Kaat, who has been playing or working in baseball for more than 60 years.

Here were his words of wisdom. I’ve repeated them about a thousand times since:

“Sometimes – actually most times – BEING RIGHT is not as important as DOING WHAT’S RIGHT.”

How would we go about hanging that saying in the office of Rob Manfred? And Tony Clark? And everyone whose job it is to preserve the dignity of a sport that has had a special hold on millions of Americans for nearly 150 years?

Being right is not as important as doing what’s right.

It’s clear that MLB owners just want to “be right” here, to dominate the MLBPA and put players “in their place,” for lack of a better term. They are still fighting conflicts that should have ended 25 years ago, as I noted in this article here Monday, quoting former Commissioner Fay Vincent:

“It cannot be done. It’s the same thing I told the owners in 1994 (before the strike) “if you shut the game down, you’re going to war with the union and that union cannot be broken,” Vincent said. “It looks like it’s 1994 all over again. I don’t think anyone has learned their lesson.”

No, the lessons of 1994-95 have not been learned, and worse, this is turning people off from the game. I have seen some of you mention that waning of interest in comments in various articles here, but added to those voices, quoted by Stark, is this:

I voiced these concerns to another longtime baseball executive this week. He listened, then tried his best to reassure me. I’ve been paying way too much attention to my social media feed, he said. That might be true. But then I told him the story of a guy I know who has spent almost his whole adult life working in baseball, except for the last year or so.

“They’ve pushed me away,” that guy told me the other day. “I just don’t care anymore. So if there’s no baseball this year, that’s fine. If there are 50 games, that’s fine. If there are 80 games, that’s fine, too. I just don’t care. I’ve found lots of other ways to divert my attention.”

These were not the words of a man I ran into on the way to the hardware store. This was a man who has spent decades working in baseball, caring deeply throughout every one of those decades. So if this sport is turning off the caring switch in somebody like him, it saddens me to think how many other, less caring people it has turned off.

Right there, RIGHT THERE is the crux of this problem. If people who love the game and worked in the game for decades don’t care anymore, how do MLB moguls expect casual fans to care? They’d better think long and hard about how angry some fans are about how this situation’s been handled, when millions of people are out of work through no fault of their own. Yes, baseball as a business has lost many millions of dollars. So stipulated. But MLB owners are acting like they are the ONLY business so affected. Which, I am sure you know, is not true. Further:

I’ll return now to Jeff Passan, who interviewed Commissioner Rob Manfred on ESPN Wednesday:

Well fine and dandy again, but if it’s going to be some kind of bastardized 50-game season, you’re going to get a lot of people simply going to turn away. Is that what they want? Just to avoid a little bit of short-term pain?

One last quote from Stark’s article, if you don’t mind, because he sums it up perfectly, first in this quote from Don Fehr. Fehr used to be one of the MLBPA principals; now, he’s the head of the NHL players union:

“What I can say is this,” Fehr said. “We’re faced with a common problem, which arose entirely outside the ordinary labor-management relationship, and we can’t resolve this by ourselves … (There is) a common recognition we’re dealing with something entirely out of the ordinary, and we’ve got to figure out a way to deal with it.”

I never thought I’d be pointing to the NHL as a model for anything baseball should aspire to. But I’m there. That is how it’s done. At times like this, neither side should be trying to win or lose, no matter how ugly their relationship or their history. These are the times to shove all of that aside and solve those common problems — because the solutions benefit everyone.

Exactly. Get it done. Today. So that baseball can be that example of a sport that got its act together and got back on the playing field. It can still happen. Play ball. It’s not too late... yet.