Baseball is standing on a very dangerous precipice right now.
The problem is money. It’s always money. Without fans in the stands, owners reportedly want players to accept a revenue-sharing plan for whatever form the 2020 season takes. The MLBPA sees that as a defacto salary cap, and to the union, that’s a nonstarter.
The posturing has begun. Both sides are digging in their heels, prepared for a fight.
That’s a horrible, horrible idea. A strike/lockout is never going to sit well with anyone, but right now, when the coronavirus pandemic has shut down the nation? When unemployment is approaching an unfathomable 15 percent? When small businesses across the country and teetering on the brink of failure and people are staring at personal financial ruin? Read the room. Hammer out a deal, in private.
The idea of a work stoppage — billionaires squabbling with millionaires over how to split billions of dollars — is colossally stupid. Just imagine the reaction if, somehow, every other thing that needs to happen — safety precautions for everyone in the game are satisfactory, the country finally provides enough testing to have extras for sports and team-by-team logistics are worked out, for example — actually happens, and the season is ready to go only to be shut down because the sides can’t agree on how to distribute all the money. Think about that.
Instead of being the sport that came back and helped the country restore some sense of normalcy, baseball would be one thing: The sport that forever turned off its fan base.
This would be worse than cancelling the World Series, and it’s not particularly close.
I can’t help thinking about my dad and baseball right now.
My dad grew up in St. Louis as a die-hard Cardinals fan. He’d listen to games on the radio and read about them in the paper. The summer before his freshman year of high school, 1960, he even worked selling popcorn and soda at the original Busch Stadium, hitch-hiking his way to the stadium for nearly every game.
That Cardinals squad featured the legendary Stan Musial late in his career, and dad loved that infield group, with Bill White at first, Julian Javier at second and Kenny Boyer at third base. And he was a big fan of George Crowe, the lefty slugger who was a pinch-hitter for the club in 1959 and 1960.
“You always thought he could come up there and hit a home run,” my dad told me Monday on the phone. “I loved that.”
Dad served a tour in Vietnam — he was one of the lucky ones who made it back — and got out of the service in 1972. My parents had me late in 1975 and my sister in 1977. The Cardinals of that era weren’t great, but dad was still a fan. It’s baseball, y’know?
Everything changed in 1981, though.
Baseball stopped for two months that summer, a players strike that was the ugliest, most damaging work stoppage in the sport’s history to that point. For people like my dad — a Vietnam vet less than a decade out of the service, with two kids (and another one arriving in 1982) and a mortgage making $19,000 a year — the details didn’t matter so much as the fact that millionaire owners and players who were making what felt like crazy amounts of money shut down the sport.
It was unforgivable. Next summer will be my dad’s 40th consecutive year without spending a dime out of his pocket on baseball tickets.
He still loves the sport. He’s been to the ballpark many times — he was lucky enough to eventually work for a company that had season tickets, which is how he took me and my siblings to several games a year (and how he was at Game 7 of the 1982 World Series) — and he still watches games because he loves the sport. We talk about baseball all the time.
He tells me his theories on what the Cardinals need, and I tell him about my experiences at the stadium. He always reads every single word of my yearly way-too-long Hall of Fame ballot explainer column, even though he might not agree on my approach to the Steroid Era guys like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
He loves the sport. But he hasn’t given the owners or the players a dime out of his pocket. He doesn’t buy concessions when he’s at the ballpark (well, he’d buy us kids popcorn and drinks) and he doesn’t buy merchandise. His money stays his money.
For the owners and players in 2020, it’s about money. It’s always about money.
But if either side has an ounce of common sense, they’d damn sure make it about something else. The year 2020 has been unlike anything any of us has ever experienced, and BOTH sides have to treat this as such. Billionaire owners can stomach one season of profit levels below normal. The MLBPA can’t be worried about a precedent being set that will impact future negotiations.
Lock the doors. Hammer out the details. Get the damn deal done.