Baseball’s Back…But At What Cost?

It’s been a hell of a few months for all of us, not just as Orioles fans or even as baseball fans, but as humanity. The world has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, and the baseball world is no exception to that. You’ll quickly notice that there is more to all of this than meets the eye. It’s not about the game or the Orioles. It’s not about their rebuild, their draft, or their draft position next year. Baseball just went through something horrific. It was a long and arduous process that hurt a lot of people. It’s also important to continue reiterating that in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people worldwide, hurt feelings don’t really matter. None of this really matters. We’ve had more than 120,000 Americans die during a pandemic and Major League Baseball just spent months arguing with the players about how to best proceed playing the game.

And while it appears they have figured it out – setting a date and everything – we all know they don’t REALLY have it figured out.

If we don’t have a new way of life figured out as a society quite yet, I can’t be mad at baseball for not having itself figured out. I don’t even have myself figured out. I would normally be writing in this space just about every week, but haven’t in months. It felt trite. It felt pointless. I honestly didn’t think baseball was coming back this year, and I was perfectly okay with that. Now that it is (supposedly) coming back, I don’t know how to feel.

Excitement? I don’t really have that.

Anticipation? There isn’t much of that either.

Trepidation is what I’d call it to this point. It feels daunting that MLB is going to squeeze 60 games into 2020 in the midst of a pandemic and think that they’ve accomplished something. Baseball’s owners (and to a much smaller extent, the players) have done some damage here. Not just with their bickering over money, but also with their feeling of importance.

I get that baseball is important to a lot of people. It’s important to me, too. But in this environment, and in this new world we all find ourselves in, “important” takes on a new meaning.

When we all sit back and take off our sunglasses and get the smell of fresh-cut grass out of our noses, we realize that this return is about one thing – the almighty dollar. It isn’t about giving fans something to watch or rally around. It was never about that for MLB or the players, and was never going to be about that. It’s about money. How much the owners can save, how much the players can make, and how much you are ultimately willing to spend on your cable package or streaming service to view it. That’s all it’s about and all it ever was about. That’s frustrating and there’s a larger conversation to be had about our society when it comes to these things.

It’s not a conversation that needs to be had here, because it gets political and messy. But it’s real and heartbreaking all at once.

Baseball’s return is also going to give us a very bastardized version of the game. Among the new rules that will need to be enforced to have a season play out is adopting the recently-used minor league rule of starting an inning with a runner at second base once the game goes to extra innings. This is to prevent games from going too long in a condensed schedule. If we are going to those extremes, why wouldn’t we just have tie games?

We’re also going to apparently see a rule enforced against spitting. While I agree that it’s a rule that is necessary in the world right now, if we have to go to those extremes to play the game, is the game even worth it?

We’re also going to see different rules when it comes to roster size, scheduling and extreme social distancing. All of this to play a game and entertain while making money for folks who already have a lot of it.

Chris Davis looks swings and hits a pitch, but he has dollar signs and dollar bills on his jersey on top of the various Orioles logos.

Original photo credit: International Business Times

Speaking of those folks who already have a lot of money – it’s important to point out that owners just spent months arguing about the fact that they aren’t going to make as much money as they would under normal circumstances. There’s no risk for them. Not to their health, or their bottom line. It’s all about them not making as much money as they normally would. Sure, there are projections that they had in a pre-pandemic world that they won’t meet. But it’s not like they are losing money hand over fist in order to make baseball happen this year. And even if they were losing money, there is no rule – as an owner of a sports team or any other business – that states your company can’t lose money.

These owners have acted over the last few months as if it is their God-given right as businessmen who run baseball franchises to make money – and lots of it – every year. Not every business is a money-maker every year. That’s not how it works for the hardware store down the street from you or the bakery across town. None of them automatically work, especially in a pandemic where the world shuts down around you. It’s that smug attitude from owners that really set in stone what this whole argument was about over these last few months. It’s why blaming “both sides” or not backing the arguments of the players doesn’t work for me.

They had every right to fight for what they wanted, and baseball still ended up having its way by getting as few games as it possibly could. Baseball doesn’t care what you want out of all these, either. They aren’t even going to lift the years-long blackout restrictions on streaming that have been in place. If you live in Iowa, so sorry, but you won’t get to watch much baseball even in a 60-game sprint season.

MLB loves nothing more than to make sure more people can’t even watch its product. It’s this kind of ancient attitude toward the game that baseball needs to shed. They haven’t done it over the last few months, and it with Rob Manfred at the helm, it doesn’t appear that anything like that is on the horizon.

When baseball eventually does return – and I’m still just going to count myself as hopeful that it is indeed in a month – I’ll be happy about it. I’ll make dumb jokes on Twitter and enjoy watching the Orioles and other more talented teams play. But right now I’m not in any kind of a celebratory mood about baseball’s return. It doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t fit the moment. Between a global pandemic (which is a completely valid reason to cancel a season) and the battle we just witnessed between owners and players, nothing that has just happened should be celebrated.

Baseball’s the game I first fell in love with, and I’m sure I’ll fall in love all over again. But I don’t have to be happy about it in the current state of things. It doesn’t quite fit the moment.

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