MLB's return-to-play negotiations with the MLBPA have been playing out in the public sphere for months now. Statements keep flying back and forth. Players are reacting every day.
Nothing is getting accomplished unless the goal is to affect public opinion, and that is definitely not working either. It's been a couple of decades since baseball fans were this annoyed or apathetic toward the game.
Twitter didn't exist for baseball's labor negotiations in the mid-90s. There was no easy outlet for those following baseball to fire off their scorching takedowns of owners or players. The league couldn't leak info that reaches hundreds of thousands of people in 20 minutes. The players were not a mere keystroke away from reacting angrily and watching their opinion reach every fanbase.
It's baseball's first dispute in the era of nonstop takes and mass polarization.
"My concern was always about leaving these negotiations in the public and that's what's happened. That's made it very, very difficult," former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., a player during the 1994 strike, told NBC10's John Clark.
"It's always been real fruitful negotiations when they're done behind closed doors, when they're done face to face. It doesn't seem like that is happening like it has at other times when we've avoided labor strife.
"After '94, we had quite a strong run and I think there were a lot of people involved: Donald Fehr, Michael Weiner on one side, Bud Selig and Rob Manfred and others on the other side. It seemed like they had a much better relationship. It just seems like the trust has gone away. These types of negotiations, at the end of the day, neither party is going to be happy. But I think for the good of the game, things have to happen.
"Whether you want to use [the pandemic] as an excuse or not, they're literally not able to sit across the table and discuss these things. They're being talked about in the media. And any time you start talking about things in the media and pitting one side of the industry against the other and you allow the public opinions to sway your discussions, that's not gonna work in the long run. We've seen that when there are quiet negotiations, they're most productive.
"That's when you get real things done. There becomes a more mutual respect, people understand each other better. If they're not communicating with each other properly, it's just not gonna get done."
Monday night was pretty embarrassing for baseball. During a return-to-play special on ESPN, commissioner Rob Manfred expressed that he is "not confident" in a 2020 MLB season, a week after saying he was "100 percent" sure baseball would be played. Appearing on the same special Monday were the commissioners of the NBA and NHL, which do have return-to-play plans mostly in place.
Now, there is a major difference between the sports. The NBA and NHL regular seasons were nearing completion when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country. Those players had been paid most of their salaries. MLB was just about to begin its season. Its players hadn't been paid for 2020.
But again, the average fan doesn't care about all of that. The average fan cares about sports, not the finances. And if there's no baseball in 2020, MLB won't be able to explain its position to thousands of fans because those fans will mostly have tuned out.
"The average fan is gonna look at this and say why are the NBA and NHL playing and MLB can't get it together?" Amaro said. "The average fan may just say, you know what, I'm gonna concentrate on the NFL, NBA and NHL because the baseball people can't get their stuff together.
"For the good of the game, I think that both sides need to not be so arrogant to think that we are the only game in town. Baseball is a great sport, a wonderful sport, and the people who love baseball will continue to love it. But there are a bunch of other sports that people can be watching and putting their hard-earned money into. We have to realize that as an industry. Hopefully, these guys can understand that and put that first rather than their own needs.
"They have true grievances on both sides. My concern is that it's about the game. It's not about if the owners are gonna benefit from this or the players are gonna benefit from this. Nobody's gonna benefit if we don't have baseball and that's gonna hurt our sport."