Baseball doesn't have to return, but neither do we

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

Major League Baseball is a private industry, so if its owners can’t find a workable wage to pay their employees during the economic challenges of a pandemic, then they have the right to not open. 

Likewise, Major League players are at-will employees and if they don’t like the going rate to work, then they don’t have to take the job.

MLB isn’t an essential enterprise, although now as much as ever getting lost for a few hours in a Dodgers or a Yankees or a Cubs game sure feels that way. 

If they all want to come together and skip the 2020 season because, unlike just about every other sports organization on earth, they couldn’t work out the money, well, they have the right to do just that. 

They should know, however, that fans have the right to never return, too.

As we enter June with no deal for baseball, dwindling hope for it within the business and time ticking quickly for even the proposed abbreviated season to happen, this all becomes more infuriating. 

In the backdrop of a viral pandemic, with the country splintered over police brutality and the protests that stem from it, is it actually possible that so many people could be so obtuse?

America’s national pastime isn’t baseball, it’s watching billionaires and millionaires fight while the fortune of the masses swing in the balance, so maybe this is a fitting problem for baseball. Of all the self-inflicted wounds this sport has overcome, though, somehow not being able to find a compromise in the middle of the country’s current reality would certainly rank up there.

The owners are crying poor. The players are crying rich — and therefore capable of passing on a half-season of slimmed down pay.

The fans are just crying, wondering how MLB can’t manage what everyone else seemingly has, especially at a time like this.

As the calendar flips to June, baseball is still left without a plan to return. (AP)
As the calendar flips to June, baseball is still left without a plan to return. (AP)

They are playing soccer in Europe. The NHL has training camps set to open in early July. There is racing in NASCAR and fighting in the UFC and soon tee shots in the PGA. The NBA reportedly has a return date and its players’ biggest gripe is whether the games they will play are meaningful enough. The National Women’s Soccer League will be back by late June. Football is still on schedule.

There’s plenty more. 

Baseball? Of course not. Good old, stub-your-toe, out-of-touch baseball probably should have hurried back and claimed the empty sports marketplace to itself. The games are outdoors. Social distancing is (comparatively) easy. A big bulk of revenue is from local television, not ticket sales. 

There had to be a way. If only there had been the will.

Instead here they are with a proposed early July start date in jeopardy. Any delay to the start of the season can’t be made up on the back end — the end of the proposed 82-game (or 114 games, per the players’ latest proposal), expanded playoff campaign is already pushed into November. 

If something isn’t done soon, then it simply might not be done. And as astoundingly outrageous as that sounds — no baseball — they already did this in 1994. 

Money is like balls and strikes to these people. They can argue about it forever. 

Well, if baseball wants to quit on the year then they should be ready for fans to quit on baseball for even longer than that. The game was already dealing with issues — slow pace of play, a lack of national stars, various cheating scandals. It can be a lot of fun. It isn’t the country’s most popular sport anymore. 

Intellectually, fans should appreciate that owners and players can choose whether to do business. Emotionally though, they are free to think what they want.

Most will side with ownership, but because even with considerable reductions, a salary that pays six or seven figures is too unfathomably large for a regular person to turn down so they can play baseball. Maybe that isn’t fair, but what does fair have to do with it?

The players can argue their case as much as they want, they need to know they will be blamed for this. And ownership shouldn’t get too smug, because whatever number of customers swear the sport off because of this nonsense hits their bottom line as well. 

Late summer will no longer be baseball’s sole domain. The regular season is set to be challenged by the August or even September playing of the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals. Golf majors have been pushed back. The Kentucky Derby, too. And, of course, the NFL and college football. 

To not make this work when everyone else has made this work would be a breathtaking level of arrogance. The details of how hardly matter. In short, there was an agreement from March and apparently no one can agree on what it says anymore.

As such, here we are, with the clock ticking and both sides looking out of touch as tens of millions of Americans are facing unemployment and reduced wages, as each night a fiery rage engulfs our cities.

No, baseball doesn't have to return. Our attention span doesn’t have to either, though.

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