clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

MLB owners are letting greed get in the way of a 2020 baseball season

New, 166 comments

I find myself less and less surprised by this each day.

Photo by @WillByington / www.willbyington.com

It’s June 4.

We are less than a week from a date (June 10) which has been mentioned as the start of a “Spring Training 2.0” which would then bring us to a potential 82-game season that would start around July 1.

Players and owners have been squabbling about the length of a season and pay for players for several weeks now with no progress. Players proposed a 114-game season earlier this week. Ownership’s response:

That doesn’t sound helpful, although the idea that they are “ready to discuss additional ideas” with the MLBPA does give at least a glimmer of hope. More details from Ken Rosenthal in this article in The Athletic, including this ominous paragraph that sounds like a threat:

MLB is entertaining playing a season as short as 50 games. A scenario exists in which players would earn more total dollars playing 80 or so games at a per-game discount than 50 or so at full price. The league has not proposed such a scenario – the idea, for now, is hypothetical. But the math for this year’s pay is not the only factor for players.

Hey, there’s a midpoint between 50 and 114 games — it’s 82 games, which is a season length proposed earlier. Why not get going, do that, pay players their full prorated pay but defer some of it until 2022 or 2023 and have the expanded postseason that owners say will make them more money?

I’ll tell you why. Because the billionaires who could easily afford to take the 2020 season as a “loss leader” to promote the game going forward appear completely unwilling to do so.

Why does this matter? Here’s why:

So the NBA is going to return this summer. The NHL has figured out a framework to resume play. The NFL is moving forward with plans to play its season. Even Major League Soccer has a new CBA and will likely play its season, starting soon.

If all that happens while baseball sits home, fans will turn on baseball, and very quickly. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times said it perfectly:

Even an 82-game schedule would be the shortest one baseball has played since the 1870s, but at least it would be more than half of the usual 162. Fifty games is borderline insulting — both to fans and to the competitive sensibilities of players.

Some of us are baseball addicts, and would watch a two-week schedule with keen interest. But baseball does not need the folks who are hooked. It needs to retain casual fans and recruit new ones. The process should be well underway by now.

Right now, baseball appears to be willing to have up to a 17-month layoff — the time between last year’s World Series and Opening Day 2021 — while other professional sports gain the attention and support of those casual fans. How can team owners be so sure baseball fans would come back if they don’t play at all in 2020?

They are playing a dangerous game, team owners, and in my view it’s simple greed. Granted, revenues are down, no tickets are being sold, that money isn’t nothing. But I believe these owners could handle those losses, take a bit of a money hit right now for a bigger potential payoff in the future. Don’t believe me? How about believing well-known baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist?

“Especially during a time when most of America is suffering and baseball players have an average salary of almost $5 million, and owners of course are sitting on assets that are generally worth $1 billion and more, people don’t want to hear about squabbles between those two groups,” said Zimbalist, the longtime economics professor at Smith College who has published more than a dozen books on the economics of baseball and other sports.

Here are the words of one baseball executive that might give us all hope:

I sure hope David Stearns is right. There’s also this — players are ready to play:

But owners and players have to get going, and NOW. I’ll repeat the proposal I posted above that might be able to get it done:

Hey, there’s a midpoint between 50 and 114 games — it’s 82 games, which is a season length proposed earlier. Why not get going, do that, pay players their full prorated pay but defer some of it until 2022 or 2023 and have the expanded postseason that owners say will make them more money?

I grant you that there are more important things going on in the United States of America than baseball. I continue to believe that baseball could be at least a small part of healing this country. More from Zimbalist:

“A greater sensitivity of fan response in part because of shifting culture across the generations? I think that’s true,” said Zimbalist, who includes in that the increasing choices and popularity of video games.

“Baseball’s status as a national pastime is certainly being challenged,” he said. “Those elements will certainly complicate baseball’s effort to rejuvenate their fan base if they don’t come back.

“The other side of the coin,” he added, “is if they do come back and play baseball this summer, when people are basically starving for sports, there’s potentially an opportunity to extend its allure to more and more people and generate a level of passion and avidity that baseball hasn’t seen in a while.

“There’s a wonderful opportunity awaiting them if they can get their act together, and there’s an almost catastrophic result if they can’t. … I think both sides are fully aware of that.”

MLB owners are playing financial hardball with players. In the current situation in the United States of America that can, again, be summed up by one word: Greed. Baseball is apparently speeding toward ruining that “wonderful opportunity.”

To MLB owners and players: Sit down and figure things out. Now. Get it done. Please.

Poll

SHOULD there be a baseball season in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Yes
    (309 votes)
  • 29%
    No
    (128 votes)
437 votes total Vote Now

Poll

WILL there be a baseball season in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Yes
    (130 votes)
  • 65%
    No
    (242 votes)
372 votes total Vote Now