Late Spring 2020: The United States has been in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic since March. The company shut down as restrictions fell and only essential businesses remained open. The sports landscape was no exception. The NBA and NHL suspended their seasons, and the NCAA took the unprecedented step of canceling March Madness, their signature annual tournaments to crown college basketball’s national champions.
Major League Baseball, after initially canceling spring training, sees a window in which it can dominate the American sports scene, at least for a while. As a result, the league, under the faithful and decisive leadership of Rob Manfred, seized their opportunity. Negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association quickly materialize into an abbreviated season that allows baseball a weeks-long monopoly on the American sports scene.
4th Julyand, 2020: Play ball! On America’s birthday, at 15 different stadiums, with staggered tee times to ensure a full day of baseball on the air, the American pastime takes center stage. Even without fans in the stands, MLB’s aggressive marketing blitz in the weeks leading up to America’s Opening Day stoked the nation’s enthusiasm for baseball, a reprieve from the pervasive pandemic. and a return to normal, at least for a while.
In at least one alternate parallel universe, the above scenario played out exactly as described, and pandemic-weary Americans were able to immerse themselves in the baseball escape. For MLB, they were able to dominate the sports cycle (in a positive way), a rare opportunity considering the NFL sucks all the oxygen out of the room nearly 365 days a year.
In our world, however, the story unfolded very differently. May 11and2020, over six weeks from a hypothetical 4th of Julyand On opening day, the owners reached a OK between them for an 82-game season, expanded rosters, expanded playoffs, and a 50-50 revenue split with players.
From there, however, a tragicomedy of errors ensued. In mid-June, a 4th of Julyand start of the season was anything but out the window. And rather than get 82 games, it increasingly looked like baseball would settle for 60-70.
So let’s set our expectations:
1. Opening day between July 15 and 20
2. Prorated Full Salaries
3. 16-team playoff format for 20 and 21
4. Universal HD
5. Geographic schedule
6. Both parties agree on no grievance
7. Play between 60 and 70 games
8 Regular season ends 9/27
9 WS ends end of October
—Jim Bowden⚾️ (@JimBowdenGM) June 17, 2020
June 23rdcommissioner Rob Manfred imposed the 60-game season, with a second spring training set to begin July 1st. Opening day? End of July. The 23rd or 24and. Meanwhile, the other leagues wasted no time. The NBA announcement his season would resume on July 30and. The NHL has announced its to return to august 1st ice creamst. Instead of a virtually all-of-July exclusive window in which baseball could monopolize American sports, baseball stumbled and crawled its way up to a week.
“But Kevin. You are not fair. Negotiations require two parties. It’s not all about Major League Baseball. The players were also uncompromising.
Sure. But the fundamental difference (at least in my mind) is that Major League Baseball and the team owners, under Commissioner Manfred, are responsible for the long-term management of the game. strategic vision of baseball, flexible enough to seize unique opportunities such as the shortage of professional sports during this long spring and early summer of 2020.
The average player manages to stay in the big leagues for a few years, then moves on to another stage in his life. It is unfair to ask or expect them to run the game in the future. Nearly two years later, I remain convinced that baseball has missed its best chance in recent memory to capture the attention of America’s sports-starved fans for an extended period of time.
Two years later, I fear baseball is in a similar position. Surely, even if pitchers and catchers had shown up on time this week, baseball wouldn’t have the sports scene all to itself. The NHL and NBA seasons are in full swing and the Winter Olympics are coming to an end. But the 800-pound NFL gorilla is in one of its rare lulls with the superbowl over and free agency has yet to begin. Again, baseball has a window for attention.
Unfortunately, with the lockdown dragging on and no reason to believe it will end anytime soon, it’s increasingly likely that once again Major League Baseball will squander a chance to capitalize.
Some MLB teams, active and aggressive in free agency, almost certainly have high levels of pent-up excitement among their fans. the Texas Rangers, freshly spent half a billion dollars on their infield. the Toronto Blue Jays, a terrifying offensive juggernaut. the Atlanta Bravesfresh out of a World Events championship. the New York food, who backed the Brinks truck to bring Max Scherzer to the Big Apple. Fans of these teams, among others, are probably eager to see the return of baseball.
There is more. Elite players including Freddie Freeman and Carlos Correa remain unsigned, and a second free agent spree will almost certainly follow the lockout resolution. A really hot stove will accompany free agency, with players like Matt Olson rumored to be on the trade block.
Alas, there is no indication that a new collective agreement is on the horizon, or that the owners will lift the lockout in the absence of a resolution. So instead of filling the temporary void left by the NFL’s relative absence with spring training, a free agency blitz, a myriad of trade rumors and excited fans, Major League Baseball is plodding along. The only news that baseball contributes to the cycle is of the discouraging kind.
For the second time in two calendar years, it looks like Major League Baseball is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. When presented with opportunities to maximize the game’s exposure and capture the attention of the sporting public, the league seems to pass them up. Is this inaction due to a lack of strategic vision of the game, or to the subordination of this vision to other concerns? Either way, it’s disheartening to see baseball pass through windows of opportunity.
Again, I realize that I am exposing myself to the criticism that it takes two to tango and that it is unfair to place this straitjacket only around the necks of the owners and Rob Manfred. But I’m not convinced that it’s incumbent on players to prioritize the long-term growth of baseball when their average career is much shorter than the average length of time a team owner will control their club, and when the player’s average career income is much lower. the extent to which team owners see the value of their club increase.
It relies on Major League Baseball. Rob Manfred and the owners he answers to are the ones who I believe are ultimately responsible for doing what’s best for the game. I remain skeptical that losing opportunities stand out in American sports is in the interest of baseball. Therefore, I return to the nagging suspicion that there is no vision or that it is beholden to other considerations.