I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember a time when baseball did such things as entertain us, bind us, give us daily succor, fill us with hope.
But enough about the steroid era.
Seriously, if the hubbub surrounding ESPN’s “Long Gone Summer” documentary on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa accomplished one thing with me, it was making me appreciate the heck out of any year not named 2020.
There have been lots of times when baseball was in a bad way. The Black Sox Scandal of a century ago surely turned many fans away, a sacred trust broken. Along the way since, the game has seen terrible racism, cocaine abuse, collusion among owners, player strikes, a massive steroid scandal and various other outbreaks of cheating.
The National Pastime? Please. That has long been an antiquated notion.
But have you met 2020? It came along like a cement truck driving over an anthill. In many ways, it has been trying and cruel. The absence of sports has only been a small part of it all. Baseball’s confounding inability to pull its head out of its behind and get things going again has been, one supposes, an even smaller part. Still, there’s something about baseball’s role in all this madness that’s wildly offensive.
At a time when so many would appreciate being able to turn to baseball, when it actually could be quite like a “national pastime,” it instead is daring us — all but begging us — to never give a rat’s tail about it again.
If baseball were a meme, it would be “hold my beer”-ing itself.
How’s that Spring Training 2.0 going? It isn’t.
Could it get any worse than having only half a season? Yes, and it will. It’s going to be much worse, it seems.
At once, baseball is completely stuck and yet heading fast toward what might be only a 50-or-so-game season. In that case, the players’ union would be expected to do two things: one, file a grievance against the league for not scheduling as many games as it could have; and two, block the league from the money-making move of expanding this year’s playoffs.
Ownership greed is the primary culprit in my book. Regardless, the product in the above scenario would suffer greatly. It would be like replacing the finest dish on Taylor Street with canned ravioli. And all that weak sauce is splattered against the looming backdrop of what could be, a couple of years hence, an even larger, more damaging dispute between Major League Baseball and its players’ union as billions of dollars in new television revenue roll in.
On Saturday, the MLBPA got huffy in a statement from executive director Tony Clark that concluded: “It unfortunately appears that further [negotiations] with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”
Not to be outdone, the league responded with a late-night statement of its own that began: “We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
What commissioner Rob Manfred and his people failed to mention is that those “successive” proposals were all pretty much the same. Minor bumps in percentages of prorated salaries offered came with minor reductions in numbers of games proposed. The exercise was pointless because the league never really took any weight off the scale.
But no matter which side is more to blame, it’s baseball fans who are getting the business end of this fight.
Because it’s not enough that the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees and probably a bunch of other teams are stealing signs.
It’s not enough that the league has a tanking problem. When the Red Sox, Indians and Giants aren’t trying to win, you know things have gotten screwy. And those teams have lots of company. Of course, the Cubs and White Sox front offices know this from first-hand experience.
It’s not enough that a player as talented and ideal as Kris Bryant gets routinely jerked around by his own organization.
It’s not enough to go months of spring and summer without big-league ball games.
No, baseball had to see 2020’s bet and raise it with this offensive, ridiculous, completely unnecessary clown act.
Boy, what fun.