Disconnect between MLB, fanbase continues during wait for 2020 season
Baseball is the greatest game ever invented. It frames the summer. It once defined our childhood. It represents the first time millions of Americans were placed under heart-pumping, flop-sweating, fight-or-flight pressure.
Have you stood in an on-deck circle with a lump in your throat, a bat in your hands and your parents in the stands?
Strike out on three pitches and your therapist has probably heard about it.
Major League Baseball is far more callous. MLB is the ultimate benefactor of our sporting passion, our history and our allegiance. MLB is a multibillion-dollar international corporation profiting from our deep love of nostalgia. They are an outdated business model barely clinging to cultural relevance but still carrying huge value to their advertisers/television partners.
But they don’t love the game like we do. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be fighting inside a pandemic over short-term losses.
On a grass-roots level, baseball has always been an equal opportunity endeavor for anyone with a glove and a love for the game. And in worst-case scenario, you can always borrow the glove. But you don’t need to be taller, faster or stronger to succeed on a sandlot. You can be mostly average.
Major League Baseball is just the opposite. To succeed at the highest level, you must possess one of two extremely rare athletic skills. You must throw the ball 90 miles per hour or faster. Or you must be able to hit that same projectile while holding a two-pound bat, when you have one-tenth of a second to decide if you’re swinging or not.
MLB players might possess the rarest skill of all. Football players are known mostly for their courage. Hockey players are known mostly for their toughness. Basketball players are primarily known for their athletic ability. But distilled to incomprehensible, unteachable skill? MLB players might have them all beat.
So how do we reconcile this current feud between billionaires and millionaires at an unparalleled moment in our history?
Like any other baseball game, you keep a scorecard. You tally up all the Ks. You hold a grudge every time they mock our passion with their sit-down strikes and financial needs. Because we’re the ones who made them rich. Even though we seem to know it and they don’t.
Maybe owners and players are so removed from reality that they don’t fear our anger, especially during a time of social unrest. Or because they anticipate playing inside empty stadiums. Or maybe they’ll be surprised at the lack of silence. History has proven the most righteous protests simply can’t be muted or contained.
Maybe the filthy Astros will go down as the luckiest team in baseball history, unpunished for their sign-stealing shenanigans over the past three years, given both cover and reprieve by the greed of all those around them.
Maybe none of that matters. Because every time MLB distances itself further from the beating heart of baseball, the more distant the pulse becomes. The more aging and irrelevant baseball begins to sound, the closer we all are to extinction.
You can a pick a side, like I have. Owners can be a dastardly lot. But the players’ union agreed to renegotiate their previous agreement if the sport must go on without fans. Which means the union has broken the framework of the agreement. Which means the players are being dishonest, delusional and negotiating in bad faith.
That’s why commissioner Rob Manfred will be able to effectively impose a 48-game schedule on his players, bypassing all their insults and concerns.
Hopefully, the 2020 season won’t resemble a shotgun wedding. That would be a shame. Especially if those same players are hell-bent for revenge when the current CBA expires in 2021, when we might all be witnessing the end of MLB, when the nation’s former pastime finally perishes from paper cuts.
Of course, MLB is just an acronym and money-printing operation. A business model with great concessions stands and souvenirs but hardly immortal. At least on its current path.
But the romance of baseball is lodged in our hearts, bulletproof and eternal, like playing catch with your father. Fortunately, that is out of MLB’s reach.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.