Avoiding Sympathy and Blame if There is No MLB Season

photo: Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)

It feels as if there is extreme polarization on every issue in our society. Important nuances of extremely complex matters are brushed by without consideration as existing trenches are dug deeper and deeper.

It is as if we are back in the old days of Saturday afternoon westerns at the cinema, where the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys were in black, with no gray areas whatsoever.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is that simple.

Take the current state of Major League Baseball, for example. There is not a person even tangentially interested who does not want to see games played in 2020.

However, there is always some kind of “if” attached.

“If” the players can be safe. “If” MLB does not take tests away from the general public. “If” the money can be worked out. “If” 27 sets of cities and states will allow teams to play in their own stadiums. “If” revised rules and schedules are acceptable. And the list goes on and on.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking. On one hand, it might seem there is still plenty of time to get ready to restart spring training in mid-June and celebrate Opening Day 2020 in early July. On the other, each of these and dozens more nagging “ifs” have to be knocked down and negotiated out by owners and players – one by one.

And even that is not as simple as it appears. The owners are 30 separate groups of individuals, with generally common objectives. But that does not mean they always all agree on how to achieve them. Some teams are better insulated financially from a lost 2020 than others, though none are in any danger of going under.

Then, there is the MLB Players Association, several thousand individuals who are diverse in every way other than they are all young men who play the game of baseball particularly well. Some players are ready to go, while others have reservations that may or may not be able to be satisfied.

To date, we have seen proposal details leaked and public displays of contempt. We’ve read about “smoking guns” and prior commitments broken. We have seen posturing designed to put pressure on the other side.

Managing the message and perception seems to receive as much or more attention as the content behind it. This is likely only going to increase in the days ahead.

For those of us who are non-stakeholders, our emotions can change by the day, or even the hour. The owners are greedy. The players are insensitive. The owners are insensitive. The players are greedy. And so the carousel spins.

My view is that we should neither demonstrate sympathy for nor place blame on either side. The complexity and sheer volume of details to be worked out in a very short time is daunting. Because of this, there seems a reasonable chance they cannot come to agreement on playing in 2020.

Owners assert they will lose billions of dollars no matter what happens and they would be better off canceling the season if players do not accept further salary concessions. Many have significant interests in related but separate endeavors including regional sports networks and entertainment complexes.

How many businesses are on firm enough ground financially that they could choose to not operate for a year and know they could re-start later? That is a advantageous place to be.

Players are against revenue sharing when times are tough, noting it was not offered when times were good. They bristle at the talk of a salary cap and are especially skeptical of MLB’s accounting. They have already received $170 million they do not have to return to tide them over if no games are played.

MLBPA members also have to assess health and safety exposures that affect each of them personally and the risks that will remain no matter how comprehensive the plans may be.

Both sides worry about the potential downstream impact of concessions accepted in 2020 would have on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, just 18 months away. That pact will establish the parameters for the game’s operation for five years, from 2022 through 2026, so its looming importance cannot be overestimated.

Simply put, owners and players alike may have what they believe to be very good reasons for an unwillingness to accept the other’s current stance. That is their choice as the primary stakeholders.

If players are not comfortable with safety and compensation, who are we to judge them? Similarly, if owners feel it is in their best interests to not play in 2020 to help minimize their already substantial financial losses, isn’t that within their right?

If not all 27 cities are opened up in time, thereby wrecking the good intent behind the proposed regional schedule, should they proceed even if team travel includes multiple trips to Florida and/or Arizona? And yes, what if there is a new breakout of the virus despite all the precautions?

Having said all that, if the situation gets as far as scrapping the season, the most likely expectation is that there will be finger-pointing between players and owners as they each try to take and hold the high ground. They are the ones wearing the white hats.

We should understand that we will learn what they tell us, directly or via controlled “leaks”. And they will endeavor to only tell us what they want us to hear.

I get it. Everyone would be disappointed and frustrated if the 2020 MLB season cannot be played. My only hope is that if it gets to that, fans can avoid joining in the blame game and together, look ahead to better times in 2021. (And despite the gloom and doom coming from some corners, baseball will survive this.)

Yes, we want our entertainers. We want our entertainment. And we want it now! But that doesn’t mean they have to give it to us. Like it or not, we don’t get a vote.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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