Major League Baseball is back but a long way from a great future
Baseball is back and miles from home. A whisper of what it used to be.
Do you forgive? Do you even care?
The overdue agreement between owners and players on Thursday happened after a 99-day lockout; after a series of false deadlines; after more reckless behavior from a sport that is out of touch and out of time.
But at least it ended a hint of self-awareness.
“Great news,” Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall said Thursday evening. “Play ball.”
Is it enough for you that there was actual urgency and self-awareness at the end, when the feuding parties actually cared enough to read the room?
For all the threats, there will be no serious damage and no missed games. Diehards and television networks will get their 162-game schedule. The Cactus and Grapefruit leagues will take modest economic hits, but Hall said he hopes the Diamondbacks can still play between 20-25 spring training games, citing room for creative scheduling. And in the end, the labor dispute amounts to no harm, no foul. Especially for those who are craving the romance, poetry and nostalgia of baseball.
But who is that anymore?
Hall notes the new deal represents revolutionary progress, including a front-page headline buried deep inside the agreement: The National League will now feature designated hitters. After 49 years of a house divided, there will be unanimity in lineups and strategy, a change that further diminishes the value of Madison Bumgarner.
“I think it’s going to be great for the sport, I really do,” Hall said.
But the sport remains paralyzed by a lack of trust and cooperation. All the significant tempo changes — pitch clocks, a ban on defensive shifts, larger bases, etc. — won’t happen overnight. And that’s a shame. Major League Baseball has no time to wait.
The league needs to immediately embrace a new era and a new energy. For years, there has been a culture war underfoot. Old school groupthink vs. celebrations of the individual. The scolds against the bat flippers. The latter must prevail.
Major League Baseball must embrace its diversity of cultures, from the flexing to the hurt feelings. The sport must highlight and showcase the interpersonal drama that helps define the NFL and NBA. For years, MLB has been referred to as, “The Show.” They must take that moniker seriously from now on.
To that end, MLB must find a way to put the ball in play faster and more often. No more teasing audiences with pitchers stepping off the mound, hitters stepping out of the batter’s box, a funeral procession of strikeouts and a chorus line of relief pitchers summoned from the bullpen. Action and athleticism must be the priorities. And that requires a true alliance with its players, where both sides willingly scratch each other’s backs. That’s how they do it in the NBA.
“It now time for us to be partners,” Hall said.
So are you willing to give the sport another mulligan?
Hall said he recently received an email from a fan named Dave, a season-ticket holder from the team’s inaugural season in 1998. He said he had seen enough. He said he was canceling his season tickets. When Hall pleaded for mercy, Dave reiterated his stance: I’m done.
When news of an agreement broke on Thursday, the fan reversed course, telling Hall that “baseball is back and so am I.”
“This became a great day,” Hall said.
Indeed. And a long way from a great future.