Glenn Clark: Why MLB Labor Dispute Isn’t A ‘Both Sides’ Issue

Allow me to start this week’s column by stating the obvious.

We have far bigger problems in this world than whether or not baseball is played in America in 2020. I’m not sure what role, if any, I can play in trying to help those who have been deeply impacted by the continued systemic racism and murders in this country, but I’m trying to listen and will continue to listen for as long as I live.

Of course, we do sports here. In the past week, I’ve read an almost breathless string of tweets and columns or heard opinions on radio and TV that essentially all said the same thing. “MLB and MLBPA need to figure this out for the good of the game,” they might say. Or perhaps it is, “I’m not telling you who is right or wrong, but I don’t want to see billionaires fight with millionaires.”

The opinions are as formulaic as they are unhelpful. We’re essentially saying nothing so that we don’t have to take a side. And to some extent, I share the opinion. I don’t ACTUALLY care about either the Major League Baseball players or owners in this particular fight. That’s not hard for me to do, because I know they don’t care about me … or my kids … or you … or yours. If there is a season played and players indeed receive their “full” prorated contracts, Chris Davis isn’t going to personally hand me any of the money he would make. Alex Cobb won’t send my son a nice present for his third birthday next weekend.

Of course, if the owners manage to successfully get the players to play for less than that number, they won’t be passing that money back to me, either. My cable bill has still included a charge for MASN the last two months despite no baseball games being played the past two months and the channel not coming across my TV at any point. No owner in baseball is going to say, “Since we won our dispute with the players, we’ll happily give you all free tickets to all of our games in 2021.”

So obviously, I’m not on either side of this dispute. It impacts me in no way. I’m simply a fan who would like to be able to tune into baseball games, even if I can’t take my kids to them or if my particular favorite team isn’t particularly good.

But the “just get a deal done” take reflects something a little more than that. And that’s where I separate from it. It reflects the idea that both parties are responsible for the current predicament and they both need to be willing to bend in order to make something happen. It also suggests that what’s at stake isn’t simply the ability to play baseball games this summer — it’s essentially the soul of the sport. These opinions are either directly or indirectly suggesting that a lost season would do irreparable harm to the sport, similar to the 1994 players’ strike.

Those aspects of this particular take I am unwilling to support.

I’ll start with the former. It is completely wrong and unfair for any of us to suggest that baseball players bear even a small amount of responsibility for this plight. We’ve been oh-so-willing to suggest things like, “Hey, all of us have had to make sacrifices because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so should baseball players!” Somehow we’ve forgotten that, you know, they already have.

A number of Major League Baseball players likely would have been willing to remain quarantined and play all of their 162 scheduled games this season despite the risks of the virus. They (rightfully) weren’t afforded that opportunity. Understanding that, players agreed to be paid based only on the number of games they actually were able to play this season. They made a significant sacrifice! And a number of them have continued to be available to their respective teams in the meantime, helping to provide content or get involved with charity endeavors, etc. Sure, the overwhelming majority of us far more dire economic circumstances than the overwhelming majority of them, but suggesting that they haven’t made a sacrifice is a total farce.

Moreover, there is no debate regarding who is responsible for the sides being unable to get a season started. The owners made a deal with the players in LATE MARCH for how compensation would work. Believing that circumstances have changed that would require a new agreement would force you to believe that in LATE MARCH there was no way for owners to know that they wouldn’t be able to have fans at stadiums this summer.

This agreement came AFTER the country was shut down and at a time that all of us knew this could knock out public gatherings for the foreseeable future. Whether owners believed they could get players back to the table or not, it would be disingenuous for them to have come to an agreement at that time that would be predicated on the need for normal ticket sales.

This mess was made by one side. And if that side wants baseball back this season, that is the side that needs to cave here. I’m not on the players’ “side,” but I’m not a useful idiot either. They have leverage to protect; they already made a deal and they have no reason to give anything more in this situation. I wish internet radio hacks had a similarly powerful group representing them.

That said, perhaps the owners are telling the truth. Perhaps paying players prorated salaries this season would absolutely wreck them economically. For the record, I don’t believe that. I think it might be a loss but it would likely be more of a loss leader. We’ll of course never know, because they simply won’t show the players or the media their books. But if that’s true, we simply don’t play baseball in 2020.

And that’s OK.

Sure, it’s a bummer. It’s REALLY bad news for local sports media companies. But we’ll survive. There will be no Wimbledon this summer. There will be no British Open in golf. It’s not because the tournaments couldn’t be played; they almost certainly could. It’s because they decided that it wasn’t worth it economically to host the events without spectators. For tennis and golf fans, we’re really disappointed.

But we’ll watch in 2021. And some of us will still attend the events. Because we know what happened this year. You can call it “unspeakable greed” if you want. But the world was rocked by a pandemic. Unfortunate decisions were made. It’s quite possible that we could have just postponed the NCAA basketball tournament and played it in June with no spectators. There’s not going to be an NBA Draft for some time, so players could have just waited out their decisions. But instead the tournament was cancelled … and we survived. And we’ll watch again in 2021.

Will it hurt baseball to have no season whatsoever? Probably. That’s why I think playing a season with prorated contracts would prove to be a loss leader for owners. But the notion that Opening Day 2021 at Camden Yards wouldn’t be totally sold out with immense interest in the game in most local markets next year is absolute poppycock.

I hope we’ll see baseball before that. But if we don’t, I won’t be remotely mad at the players. This isn’t a “both sides” issue.

And in the meantime, perhaps we can spend more time trying to solve the far more pressing issues we face as a society.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Glenn Clark

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