Strike Three

Major League Baseball had their chance. With the COVID-19 pandemic consuming all major sports, baseball, due to its primarily non-contact nature had a chance to come back. But instead, a revenue dispute has allowed all major sports to formulate return plans, while the players and owners argue over numerous factors. 

At this time, it appears the players union and the owners are both far apart on a deal.

Other major sports such as the NHL and NBA both had two major hurdles to clear. With both sports being much more physical than baseball, the standard six feet apart rule would have been impossible to follow at all times. Additionally, both leagues were in the middle of the regular season when play stopped. This left the decision of if and when these leagues resume play, should they jump straight to the playoffs, or play some or all remaining regular-season games. Both leagues have since released plans to resume play in late July without fans in attendance. 

Major League Baseball did not have these problems. Most players, with the exception of a few, tend to stay six feet apart at most times. And while baseballs can be touched by multiple players, they are switched out frequently, unlike basketballs, and the sport stays away from contact, unlike hockey. Starting with a clean slate for 2020, left the teams able to start from the beginning. The decisions to include a possible expanded playoff bracket or other factors would have been known from the beginning.

And while baseball would have definitely looked different, it seemed baseball could have had the best chance to return the soonest of the major leagues. Unlike the NHL and NBA, who were forced to make decisions when the regular season was winding down, baseball could have made theirs at the beginning. Whether it be a universal designated hitter, hub cities for games, or an expanded playoff bracket, it all would have known before the season began. 

The idea of baseball as the only one of the major four sports playing could have had a resounding impact on the league and players. For years we’ve heard statistics on the decline in attendance and television viewership among the baseball world. With baseball as the only sport on television, ratings and general interest would have spiked, having a positive long term effect on the game. 

Instead, we sit here in the middle of June wondering if and when we will see baseball. The idea of an Opening Day on Independence Day would have been just what baseball fans and Americans needed and so long desired. Not only would baseball triumphantly return, but a sign to everyone our country was on the way back from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the Players Association and owners continue to trade proposals about revenue sharing, the length of the season, and potential money deferrals, we all continue to wait. As days continue to pass, the original idea to start games around the start of July will not happen. It seems every few days, we hear of a new proposal, usually different in the number of games, but the same revenue requests from both the players association and the owners.

But since talks have since stalled, with the Players Association stepping away from the negotiating table. Less than a week after commissioner Rob Manfred stated “I’ll tell you unequivocally: We will play Major League Baseball this year,” he now seems far less confident. His tone soured on Monday as Manfred sounded less confident in a season after a report surfaced that MLB would not have a season unless the Players Association waived possible legal claims. 

Players quickly fired back at the commissioner, with a typical fired up Trevor Bauer twitter thread leading the way. In response to the letter received Monday by the players, Randal Grichuk simply replied on Twitter with “Welp, there goes the season. See y’all in 2021.”

If the 2020 season is lost due to revenue and players’ salary, it could have a permanent effect on the sport. With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 season, the tension between players and owners would never be higher. The potential impact on the future of baseball could be devastating as they could forever be known as the league that couldn’t start a season due to arguments between millionaires and billionaires.

Baseball had the opportunity to consume the nation in being the first league to return amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, fights over revenue have led to the league earning a miserable reputation among the other major sports. Major League Baseball had its chance to show everyone why it’s America’s Pastime, but instead left us all wondering about the future of baseball.

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