Don’t forgive baseball’s owners and players for arguing over money during the pandemic

If and when fans are allowed back inside big-league ballparks, what if none shows up? What a glorious thing that would be.

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Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and the players dragged the national pastime through the mud during the pandemic.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and the players dragged the national pastime through the mud during the pandemic.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

I’ll be excited about the return of major-league baseball when there are replacement players, replacement owners and a replacement commissioner.

Until then, I’ll stick with the sentiment that has been with me since the bickering began: What a bunch of selfish, tone-deaf jerks.

After months of everyone involved revealing their true colors, all various shades of green, baseball will begin its 60-game season July 23 or July 24. Can I get a “hooray”? How about a “huzzah”? Didn’t think so.

Let’s settle for a “Who cares?”

It’s instructive to note that, in the end, the players and the owners couldn’t come to an agreement during financial negotiations and that the return to work is a matter of paperwork and procedure, like something out of Robert’s Rules of Order.

If and when fans are allowed back inside big-league ballparks, what if none shows up? What a glorious thing that would be. What a well-deserved shunning of the people who — incredibly, despicably — thought it was acceptable to argue over money while a pandemic raged.

The public anger is not about the games that weren’t played. It’s not about a feeling of loss. There wasn’t going to be baseball for a while because of COVID-19. We knew that. So another two weeks or month without games isn’t going to be the end of us.

And we certainly didn’t lose our innocence while the sides fought. We’ve been on to these people and their greed for, oh, three or four decades, minimum.

But to be hit over the head with the idea that the paying customers don’t matter, especially in these worst of times, is about as bad as it gets. The owners and players were complaining about a lack of sparkling water while a fire blew across the country. Amazing.

I’d ask how they can look fans in the eye, but come on. They’ve been looking past fans forever. For players, fans were put on earth to provide cheering, to serve as the soundtrack to their video highlight reel. For owners, fans were created to provide pockets to be emptied.

If I’ve missed something good that has come out of three months of nasty negotiations, please let me know. Maybe a quarantined player sewed some dollar-sign masks and sent them to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

This fight was never about the health and safety of players. It wasn’t about how to have a season while trying to beat back a disease. It was about money. The owners and players wanted you to think it was about COVID-19 and best practices, but it wasn’t. There would be some justice if the season ended up being shut down by the virus. Both sides used the cover of a pandemic to battle over dollars.

This is a long way of saying, if I have to hear the phrase “prorated salary’’ one more time, there’s a decent chance I will lose what’s left of my mind.

But now that the verbiage of a prior agreement has forced the players to agree to the commissioner’s plan for a season, you can bet players will get more and more nervous about the spread of the coronavirus. Several teams have had players recently test positive, with Rockies star Charlie Blackmon the first in the league to be publicly identified. Just another reminder that the virus isn’t going away anytime soon, no matter how hard we try to wish it away.

Camps will open July 1. Not spring training, but summer training at home stadiums. Strange, but no stranger than anything else we’ve been through the last three months.

If you hold to the idea that baseball would have been a nice diversion while most of us were forced to stay close to home during the pandemic, what the owners and players did was unforgivable. They were given an almost sacred duty during a difficult time — please prepare to entertain the troops — yet they fought over money. Don’t forget that. When you want to know what the sport really thinks of you, remember that.

The regular season will end Sept. 27, followed by the same 10-team playoff format that has been in place since 2012. Winning the World Series in 2020 will be like winning the World’s Tallest Toy Poodle competition. The season will always have a virtual asterisk affixed to it, not just because it was truncated by COVID-19 but because it was polluted by two sides that proved to be thoroughly unlikable.

And maybe, just maybe, because a fed-up public refused to watch the games.

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