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Baseball is dying, you guys

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And this time, it’s a self-inflicted wound.

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Credit where it’s due: The catchphrase in the headline to this article was invented by NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra, and Craig usually brings it out when people say baseball’s a dying sport, yet there’s some major positive development. An example from 2017:

But this morning, the phrase has a different meaning.

This time, Major League Baseball is killing itself, and by this I mean team owners and Commissioner Rob Manfred are strangling the life out of it by playing games with the 2020 season, its length and its pay, and in so doing are attempting by public statements to shift blame for the possibility we won’t have a season to the players.

Shame on you, Rob. Seriously, shame. This would not be happening if Bud Selig were still Commissioner, and that’s a strong statement, so let me explain.

I’ve said recently that I don’t think Manfred really likes baseball, at least not in the way we as baseball fans love the game. Selig did, without a doubt. And that’s the primary reason we had labor peace for 25 years. Selig was a conciliator. There were absolutely warring factions within ownership through all those 25 years, but Selig had the ability to help them understand that if they’d all just get along, tons of money could be made. And it was.

Now, we have a lawyer in charge. And that — lawyer games, not baseball — are the games Manfred appears to love:

Ah, ha.

Many of you likely remember Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who ran the sport from 1969-84. Kuhn’s background, like Manfred’s, was in corporate law. And Kuhn was perhaps even more reviled than Manfred by fans. His regime ruled over two labor stoppages (1972 and 1981), the latter killing a third of a season and then perhaps producing an illegitimate champion because owners and the Commissioner’s office botched the way the season was divided.

That’s what we have now. A lawyer who wants to “get things done” and “beat you.” This is one of the things that lawyer said in an interview Monday:

Ya think?

It should be noted that Jon Heyman is usually in the owners’ back pocket. For him to send a tweet like this doesn’t make things look good for ownership. Who created this “disaster”? Manfred and the owners. It can’t be positioned any other way, not now.

Monday’s events began to spin out of MLB’s control after the MLB Players Association issued this statement:

You know, I’ve previously written that Tony Clark should stop making public statements, but this one was spot-on. The owners have not negotiated in good faith throughout this process, instead dressing the same offer for a 2020 season in different clothing on multiple occasions and pretending they’re actually “negotiating.” It’s absolutely clear: They’re not doing so. Instead, this is what’s actually going on:

Oh, and:

Seriously, MLB? This is what you think players should do? You can imagine what the answer to that is going to be, and it’s probably got some choice profanity attached to it.

Many players have weighed in on the current baseball crisis on social media, including Cubs players:

And then, from an unlikely source:

When Trevor Bauer is the voice of reason, we have truly stepped through the looking glass.

This is, in the end, about money, and Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post sums up the relatively small amount of money owners say they can’t do without in a 2020 season:

The difference between Major League Baseball’s last rejected offer to its players for a return to play and the cost in salaries to have a reasonable 81-game season at full pay per game is about $600 million, or about $20 million per team.

MLB acts as if absorbing such a cost — for the sake of the game, for the sake of fans and (as we’ll see) out of basic fairness — is a pandemic-induced, sport-threatening catastrophe that must be avoided.

That’s a lie. A huge, mind-boggling lie.

Here’s why: The average MLB team has increased in value by more than $1 billion in just the past six years, from $811 million to $1.852 billion. That’s according to Statista 2020, but all estimates are similar.

What the devil is $20 million per team when the average team has been increasing in value by $173.5 million per year?

It is the cost of doing business — and fabulous business at that.

That’s it. Summed up in six paragraphs, the problem. Owners are holding the sport we love hostage for, on a per-team average, what the Cubs are contracted to pay Jon Lester this year (had there been a full season).

Granted and stipulated (to use Manfred-like legal terms) that team owners are without approximately 40 percent of their total revenues this year. They won’t open their books so the MLBPA or the public can see if this is really true, but let’s give them this for the sake of argument.

That means that 60 percent of revenues are still coming in — especially if the proposed expanded playoffs, already agreed to by players, happen this fall. In a business that took in over $10 billion in 2019, that’s likely over $6 billion... and they’re claiming they can’t pay players their full prorated salaries for an (approximately) 80-game season?

Nonsense. Balderdash. Bunk. Baloney. Malarkey. Poppycock. Hooey. Bilge. Claptrap. Tommyrot. Here, go look up some more synonyms yourself.

Every single business in North America is hurting in 2020. Owners are essentially saying that players need to allow them to profit this year, instead of swallowing a one-year, short-term loss that might help them toward better gains in the future. Need further proof of the money issue?

Baseball is dying, you guys. And team owners are the ones killing it. This is what you’ve turned MLB into, Rob Manfred:

That’s quite a legacy, Rob. You will likely be remembered as the worst Commissioner in baseball history. Yes, I get it, Rob’s just doing the job owners want him to, and they’re certainly culpable in this catastrophe for the sport. But Manfred is the public face of the sport, and every time he opens his mouth on television he makes things worse.

Just to make it even more clear that this is all on owners, not players, read this from Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

Some on the players’ side have long believed some owners might prefer to cancel the season for financial purposes, regardless of any potential grievance. Manfred said Monday, however, that “the owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100 percent certain that’s gonna happen,” he added.

Manfred needs 75 percent of the owners, or 23, to move forward with a schedule of his choosing. Whether he has that support at present is unclear.

“There are definitely more than eight owners who don’t want to play,” one player agent said.

Even though it’s June 16, it’s not too late for owners to reverse course. They could still have a season of around 80 games if — right now, today — they agreed to pay players their full pro-rated salaries for such a season, had them report to Spring Training 2.0 by the end of the week and started games around July 10. They’d have to play some doubleheaders to finish up by the owners’ desired regular-season completion date of Sept. 27, but players have already signaled their willingness to do so.

So get it done. Now. Today. Stop killing baseball.

Before this does:

Now, that in itself might be a negotiating ploy by owners. It seems very likely that letter was leaked by MLB to give them the position that, “Oh, now we can’t play because of the pandemic.” Which might, in fact, be a reasonable position to take, but does anyone trust owners right now, besides owners and Manfred?

I mentioned NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra at the beginning of this article, and I’ll wrap this one by linking this long article Craig posted Tuesday morning which sums up the current crisis and lays out possible solutions. It’s worth your time.

Let’s play ball. Because if MLB doesn’t in 2020, they just might kill the sport.