This weirdo season Major League Baseball owners have cooked up sounds delightful. Eighty-two games of regional interleague competition with a universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs? Wouldn’t want a steady diet of it, but as anomalous one-off? Yes, please.
Just don’t hold your breath. The hurdles that must be cleared to make this happen are legion.
Ownership’s proposal, only snatches of which were made public on Monday, isn’t so much a concrete plan to re-start training camp next month and the regular season in July as a bid to be ready if given the green light. Right now, that remains a big if.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, May 12, that re-opening the country too soon “will not only result in needless suffering and death but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
He also told the Senate panel he doesn’t expect a vaccine in time for the school year this fall.
It’s not great context for a sweaty, spitting, colliding, high-fiving professional sports league hoping to get its teams back together next month. Neither is the nation’s economy, which last month threw more than 20 million Americans out of work.
The return of America’s pastime, even in empty stadiums, would be a major boon to a nation beleaguered by stasis and bad news, especially a short MTV-style season like the one ownership is pitching. It would be fun, historic even. But if owners and players spend the new few weeks making this about money, during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, forget it.
Owners don’t want to play unless they can turn a profit? Boohoo. Players don’t want to take a pay cut? Many lucky enough to still be working already have. Not enough testing to keep players safe? Yeah, tell us about it, man.
This is not a garden-variety work stoppage. What are PR inconveniences during a lockout or players strike are now personal; baseball and its fans are out of work for the same reason, and hundreds are dying because of it every day. Some regions of the country appear to be on the sloping end of the curve, but other parts are seeing spikes. Nationally, cases and deaths are still rising.
On Tuesday, Rob Manfred officially presented the owners’ proposal to an already circumspect MLB Players Association. Negotiating the course ahead will be difficult and contentious, but each side would do well to understand that America’s capacity for this is probably at an all-time low.
From 1985-95, baseball had three work stoppages, two strikes and a lockout, and didn’t fully win fans back until Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa each hit about a hundred home runs in 1998. It was fake, but what did we know?
Baseball isn’t to blame for this stoppage, but the stakes are higher because MLB is in the same boat as its fans. If Baseball can’t share a piece of America’s misery, winning fans back will be more difficult than in the late-1990s — especially as the coronavirus promises to affect attendance beyond this summer.
There’s a great scene in “The Sopranos” where Carmella tries to get her mob-boss husband, Tony, out of bed. She opens the curtains, and the glare of the afternoon sun hits him in the face.
“I’m depressed,” he protests.
“Oh, really?” his wife screams. “Move over then!”
Hey, Baseball, move over. And if you can’t, just bang it.