O’Neil: As other sports near returns, baseball can’t ‘get the bat off its shoulder’
Baseball just took the best pitch it’s going to see.
I came to this realization at some point between watching actor Nick Turturro congratulate pitcher Taylor Dollard on being drafted by the Mar-uh-ners and finding a mic’d up segment from Ole Miss third baseman Tyler Keenan – whom Seattle drafted one round earlier – telling an opponent that he ran a 7.5-second 60-yard dash so he wouldn’t be going anywhere on the bases.
If I’m that hungry to learn about players I can only hope will be playing for the Mariners three years, imagine how pumped I would be to watch and talk about players getting ready for this season. Instead, we’re hearing about the proposals that are being exchanged between the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association, and settling for assurances that there will be baseball at some point this summer, which is great. But by the time they reach an agreement and get on the field, baseball will have missed the opportunity to have the stage to itself.
That might turn out to be baseball’s biggest cost in all of this: the opportunity cost. Or more accurately the opportunity lost to play their season at a time when this country was at its most ravenous for sports. Instead, baseball is letting that million-dollar opportunity pass while the owners and employees argue how to divide up the pennies.
Look, I’m going to watch baseball. The sport is my first love and probably my most defining characteristic over the first 15 years of my life. I collected baseball cards. I adored Gary Carter. As a high-school freshman in 1989, I flew from Oregon to California to watch Game 3 of the World Series, a game that was delayed because of an earthquake. Baseball doesn’t have to worry about losing me.
If I didn’t abandon the sport after the 1994 strike halted the season, I’m not going to stop loving it now because of the methodical, maddening labor negotiations that are the norm in this sport. I do wonder how many people baseball could have brought back to the sport, though, had they been the first league up and running after the coronavirus shutdown.
The NBA has a plan to come back. So does Major League Soccer. College football is nearing a plan to bring athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts this month while baseball is still negotiating, which means by the time the players are back on the field, there’s going to be plenty of competition for viewers.
I don’t mean to trivialize the difficulty of these negotiations. I can understand why they’re hard. The owners have seen revenue streams shrink to the point they may dry up. How many tickets can they sell even if they’re allowed to have fans in the stands? What will happen to concessions? How much more will the public-health protocols end up costing?
The players have already agreed they won’t get paid for the games that aren’t played this year, but now they are being asked to take a lesser percentage of their salary for those games that are played.
That the owners and players haven’t agreed is not surprising. These were two groups who are notoriously antagonistic even when there isn’t a global health crisis that has altered the structure of the business.
That doesn’t make it any less disappointing, though. This summer would have been an opportunity for baseball to take the field with an entire country watching. Instead, it can’t seem to get the bat off its shoulder.
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