The cycle has been the same for weeks: one side submits a proposal, then the other leaks to the media its detestation for the offer before refusing to counter and instead drawing up a new plan with little-to-no inclusion of the other side’s requests.
Once capable of being the first American professional sports league to resume play—with a target start date of July 4 no less—Major League Baseball and its players have thoroughly bungled an opportunity to cast a favorable light on the sport amid a global pandemic.
Instead of the primary focus centering around providing hope for fans during one of the country’s darkest times, neither side has been able to agree on how to divvy up the profits if a 2020 season does end up being played. Meanwhile, the NBA and NHL have already approved proposals for finishing out their current seasons while the NFL has largely operated like normal during its offseason.
Of course, MLB faces a greater impasse than the NBA or NHL, having to negotiate the parameters for an entire season rather than the last few weeks of the regular season and/or playoffs. But the public ire on both sides has not successfully pitted fans on one side or the other—they’ve simply grown tired of it.
NBC Sports Washington’s Nick Ashooh discussed the ongoing labor dispute on Monday’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast. While admitting there are many more factors at play right now, he drew one prominent comparison between the two sides’ current feud and the one that forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
“I know a lot of people are comparing this to the ’94 strike—this is just so different in terms of what we’re dealing with and what the world is dealing with now than what was certainly going on then—but if you look at it, fair or not, you break it down to just being millionaires and billionaires fighting over money, fans have never liked that,” Ashooh said.
Thirty years of quarrelling between the league’s owners and the MLBPA culminated in August of 1994, when the players went on strike and forced the game to a halt. League officials were demanding the institution of a salary cap while players were adamant they would never agree to one. Nearly 950 MLB games were lost as a result of the strike, causing fans to grow angry that neither side would relent in order to allow the National Pastime to resume.
Yet what makes the current standoff that much worse is how much a season would mean to the public that the game was created for. In 1994, all fans stood to lose was a baseball season. Now, the lack of a season when millions are on the unemployment line and families are afraid for their safety would turn fans off the sport to the point where there would be irreparable damage.
“We’ve seen plenty of other sports go through CBA negotiations before and fans don’t like it…but with the way the world is now, it’s made it far more complicated for them with so many people that don’t have jobs or have lost jobs and then put in a position where they’re watching this and it gets to the point where…people are just tired of it,” Ashooh said.
“It gets to the point where your eyes gloss over, you move on and say, ‘Well I’m going to pay attention to these other sports that are willing to come back.’ That’s something that baseball has to think of.”
MLB officials claim they hold the trump card of instituting a 50-game season if neither side can come to an agreement. While the legitimacy of such a season warrants a conversation of its own, the extended spat between the two sides has only put a sour taste in the mouths of fans that will remain even once the game picks back up.
Time is no longer on baseball’s side. Patience is thin—not only on either of the bargaining table, but among the very fans who the sport was supposed to serve in the first place.
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