The Jig Is Up
Updated: Oct 5
“Son,” the old guy says, “no matter how far you travel, or how smart you get, always remember this: someday, somewhere,” he says, “a guy is going to come to you, and show you a nice brand-new set of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that a jack of spades will jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But son,” the old guy says, “do not bet him, for as sure as you do you are going to get an earful of cider.” — The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, Damon Runyon
I’ve tried patience. I’ve tried ignorance. I’ve tried indifference. The only thing left is grief.
I grieve for baseball. For the sport, for the game, for our pastime. For the kids that spend their summer days in the sandlot, but crave the summer nights watching their heroes take the field for nine innings. For the adults who hang on to every pitch like it’s their job. For the people who look to baseball time and again for respite from everything happening in our country.
I do not, however, weep for Major League Baseball. No, for them I hold contempt. Outrage. Anger. We’ve given them an inch of our patience, and they’ve taken a mile. And the consequences of that go beyond the foul lines — beyond the basic structure of the relationship between a union and its employers and straight into the stands.
The inability to find a solution to a shortened 2020 season is understandable. After all, both sides want to stick to their principles — you can’t fault them for that. The players want fully-prorated salaries (and understandably so), and the owners do not want to concede that much revenue to the players (less understandably so, given the owners’ massive financial reserves and ability to absorb any sort of loss for a single season).
The process, though, has been nothing less than a disgrace to the sport. Trading lightly-shaded barbs through the press. Being less-than-subtle on social media. Negotiating through means that can, on its best day, be considered shady. Forget about good faith.
Forget about the owners too. Forget about the players. The way the fans have been strung along since March has been nothing less than appalling. The absolute last thing that we needed in the middle of the most fractious period of this century was a played-out soap opera with no resolution that left fans with nothing but a sour taste in their mouths, no matter who they sided with. Months of “will they, won’t they” have served no one except the owners, who save money with each passing month. The fans, the people who have kept the wheels turning since the league’s inception? Left in the dust. The relationship is shattered.
Good luck repairing that before the Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out in 2021. Tick, tock.
I’m devastated that it’s come to this. As a baseball fan, it hurts to wake up every day and see people who haven’t watched a game in years put the league on blast for the way they’ve conducted themselves. There was a period where I felt like I had to defend the negotiations. They’ll do the right thing. They’ll figure something out. The way MLB has conducted itself is simply indefensible now. There is no reason for any right-minded fan to stand up and say that the process has been necessary, or by the book, or that it’s just “part of the game.” What game are you watching? The NBA is coming back. The NHL is coming back. Even MLS — barely a blip on the American sports landscape — has plans for a return. All before the Great American Game. Move over baseball. If you can’t get it together, we’re putting soccer goals on the foul lines. We’ve had enough.
I was not alive in the mid-90s when MLB went through a similarly-acrimonious labor feud that put the league on the brink of obscurity. I wasn’t around to watch the game deteriorate in front of the entire country. What I do know, what history can tell us, is that the game was saved by the dramatic home run chase of the late 1990s. Popularity was restored, casual interest peaked, and baseball returned from the doldrums. Hallelujah, right?
That’s not going to work this time. We’ve seen it before. We won’t be fooled again — especially not after what we’ve watched in the last two years. Four-hour games with little action besides the ball going over the wall is the norm now, not the exciting new venture. And it’s not a very well-liked norm, at that, with the phrase “pace of play” becoming as important to the league as Babe Ruth. A bunch of juiced-up athletes mashing baseballs isn’t going to revive the game in 2020. Sorry, Mark. Sorry, Sammy.
Honestly, I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry for trusting the very people whose charge it is to put the game on the field to … do their job. We all should know better. Now we will. We’ll never trust Major League Baseball to do anything right again — not even to play the sport. Imagine that.
I used to think baseball was pure, that the men and women at the top loved the game as much as the kids playing on tee-ball fields and in backyards with their siblings. It’s blatantly obvious that this isn’t the case, and that’s catastrophic.
To be totally transparent, they’ll probably play baseball this season. It’s in the owners’ best interests as a business to get some sort of season on TV. At this point, though it doesn’t even matter. Major League Baseball has hastened the demise of the very sport that it seeks to uphold.
The average age of a baseball fan is 57. A summer without baseball will be a kiss of death for youth participation — something that’s already been decimated by the wealthy, elite youth travel circuits. Most kids already can’t play organized ball, and now they’re going an entire summer without seeing it on TV. Do you really think that they’ll just pick up where they left off after a year without the sport? There are simply too many other options. Baseball has hobbled itself in the five-party race for popularity.
Will they ever look down and see that they’re bleeding?
This is not a eulogy. This is not a funeral dirge. I think we’re all way too wise to play the death march for a $10 billion company. But this does feel like an end of some sort — the end of three decades spent rebuilding collegiality between owners and players for sure, and perhaps the end of an era of the game that carried us through tragedies and triumphs and from one way of life to another.
Worst of all though, this is the end of a generation’s collective innocence as baseball fans. Our coming-of-age story has reached its final chapter. The romance has been sapped from the dirt and grass between the foul lines. The mystique of a ballpark is gone, replaced with the dark, wilted glow of doubt and cynicism. The game that drew us in as toddlers, that brought us closer to relatives past and present, that runs through our veins instead of blood for six months a year, now seems fundamentally different than it did last year. And it’s gonna take much more than a couple of longballs to bring it back.
We’ve been tricked into thinking that competency is a requirement. MLB came along with that brand-new set of cards, betting us that they’ll figure everything out.
Well, guess what? We’ve got cider in our ears.