Next generation of fans, players watching as MLB cancels games, lockout continues

With no CBA deal on Tuesday, Major League Baseball canceled the first two series of the regular-season schedule.

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Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced he is canceling the first two series of the season that was set to begin March 31, dropping the schedule from 162 games to likely 156 games at most.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced he is canceling the first two series of the season that was set to begin March 31, dropping the schedule from 162 games to likely 156 games at most.

Wilfredo Lee/AP

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs prospect Ed Howard is well versed in ignoring social media. A star from a young age thanks to the Little League World Series, and a first-round 2020 draft pick, Howard has long bought into the “control what you can control” mantra.

Even Howard was following along Monday as Major League Baseball and the players association bargained late into the night.

“It doesn’t really affect me currently,” said Howard, who is at prospect minicamp this week and gearing up for minor-league spring training. “I’m still playing and things like that. But I do keep my eye on it.”

The back-and-forth captured the attention of all of baseball. To no avail.

On Tuesday, commissioner Rob Manfred announced that MLB was canceling the first two series of the regular season schedule, pushing back Opening Day at least a week. The owner-implemented lockout reached Day 90, and the deadline they imposed to preserve the season came and went without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Howard’s generation, one MLB is relying on for the future of the sport on and off the field, was watching. What they witnessed wasn’t pretty.

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On Monday, news out of late bargaining sessions was positive, a rare flash of optimism for the return of major-league play. But on Tuesday morning, multiple outlets quoted a league official saying the union took “a decidedly different tone today.”

That didn’t sit well with players.

Pitcher Alex Wood, who signed with the Giants before the lockout, posted to Twitter: “FWIW (for what it’s worth) MLB has pumped to the media last night & today that there’s momentum toward a deal. Now saying the players’ tone has changed. So if a deal isn’t done today it’s our fault. This isn’t a coincidence. We’ve had the same tone all along. We just want a fair deal/to play ball.”

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Cubs pitchers Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele retweeted Wood’s post.

The mistrust that has characterized the relationship between MLB and its players union in recent years, especially, was on full display. Again.

Manfred at least began his Tuesday press conference, which ESPN broadcast live, on a conciliatory note.

“I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party,” he said in his opening remarks.

That theme didn’t last long.

Moments later, Manfred shifted blame to the union, adding: “Maybe the most unfortunate thing is, that agreement, the one we’ve offered to our players, offered huge benefits for our fans and for players.”

The MLBPA shot back in a scathing press release saying, “Players and fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted, but sadly not surprised” that MLB had canceled games.

The owners’ imposed deadlines and wild swings in messaging – from reportedly indicating a willingness to miss a month of games to the union Monday morning, to touting progress that same night, to actually canceling games Tuesday – gave them leverage. Those tactics may have even been responsible for bargaining meetings extending to over 16 hours on Monday.

Was it worth it?

Progress is empty without an agreement. And at the same time, MLB sent a bitter message to the next generation of players and fans.

Several of the issues that the sides remain apart on, including the pre-arbitration bonus pool and minimum salaries, stand to affect young players the most. And after putting so much emphasis on cultivating the next generation of baseball fans, MLB risked losing its young followers by implementing a lockout in December but waiting well over a month to present its next offer.

“To the fans, we will miss you most,” former Cubs star Anthony Rizzo tweeted Tuesday evening. “To the younger generation of baseball players, this is for you.”

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