Last night ESPN aired a special titled “The Return of Sports” where six of the seven commissioners of major sports in the United States in America explained how they planned to return in 2020. The NBA, WNBA, NHL, NFL, MLS and NWSL all offered reasonable explanations of the risks they’d assessed, the changes they’d made due to the pandemic and the role they felt their sport could play in 2020.
Every sports commissioner was ready to go with a plan except one: MLB’s Rob Manfred. It was infuriating to watch Manfred lead off the show explaining he couldn’t confirm there would be a season despite the fact that he publicly confirmed a season a week earlier during the draft. This morning Ken Rosenthal wrote this at the Athletic emphasis mine:
Yet for a guy who suddenly is looking for peace, Manfred sure has a funny way of showing it.
He and the owners, supposed stewards of the game, are turning the national pastime into a national punch line, effectively threatening to take their ball and go home while the country struggles with medical, economic and societal concerns.
Baseball is a business, we all know that. But it is a business that former commissioner Bud Selig describes as a social institution with social responsibilities, a business that holds an antitrust exemption, distinguishing it from every other professional sports league. Such a business should hold itself to a higher standard, but in these talks, if you can even call them that, Manfred and the owners keep sinking lower. Unless making dead-on-arrival proposals, tone-deaf public remarks and other assorted blunders is your idea of negotiating savvy.
That is scathing from Rosenthal and I will go even further - Manfred looked incompetent compared to the other commissioners and the game of baseball looked like an institution that no longer understands the soul of America, if it ever did. Compare Manfred’s remarks with this commentary from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver:
Adam Silver just subtweeting the hell out of MLB and Rob Manfred here.— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) June 16, 2020
It would be funny if I didn't miss baseball so much. pic.twitter.com/X93zmFMbzd
That is a man who understands the moment. He is absolutely right that it is not about marginal financial gains here or there. Playing in 2020 is about understanding each sport’s role in the culture of America at a historic moment. I agree with Jason Kipnis, what I wouldn’t give for MLB to be run by Silver instead of Manfred:
Dear Adam Silver,— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) June 15, 2020
... you up?
- MLB Players
Speaking of the players, one of the most telling things that jumped out at me during the ESPN special was that six of seven major sports also had players on the show talking about how fired up they were to get back in the game, their reactions to the pandemic, the protests, and more. Baseball’s players were conspicuously absent as they remain engaged in a back and forth with the owners regarding pay, health procedures and whether or not they would retain the right to file a grievance against the way MLB and the owners have conducted this negotiation. As every other league trotted out their star power to discuss the moment and sports, baseball’s biggest stars were no where to be seen. For a league that claims to care about marketing their players better, it was just an embarrassing state of affairs.
I am remarkably pessimistic that there will be baseball in 2020. I haven’t felt this down about baseball since 1994, and honestly I was pretty young then so I don’t think I really understood it remotely as well. As I write this Twitter is debating whether the number of owners willing to punt on the season entirely is six or eight. How is it even possible that 20 to 25 percent of MLB owners think it’s beneficial for them to be the only sport that doesn’t return in 2020?
The only ray of hope I see for baseball in 2020 is the remarkable solidarity of players using their social media platforms to speak out, with one voice, that they want to play. If that campaign is successful and owners see fans are with the players, owners may be persuaded that canceling the season is suicidal for baseball and the teams they own. As far as I can see that is the only chance we’ve got to see baseball in 2020, and I don’t even want to think about how damaged the league would be in 2021 if the owners and players cannot work this out soon.