It’s far from certain that the baseball season will begin in early July. Not only does national health have to allow for it, but players have to agree to the special conditions that Major League Baseball is proposing to guard against the coronavirus, and that’s problematic.
After reading a number of summaries of the proposals MLB made to the Players Association regarding health guidelines, it’s going to require countless adjustments by players.
On the road, some players like to get to the ballpark early to work out or mentally prepare for a night game. They take a taxi, Uber or Lyft. In New York, a few take the subway.
That would be forbidden under the rules. Spending time indoors is discouraged, and meetings are to be held outdoors.
Many players come on the team bus to the game. Under this plan, all of them would, and they’d be encouraged to come to the ballpark in uniform and to delay showering until they return to the hotel.
Once they get back to the team hotel, a late-night walk would be prohibited. No leaving the hotel.
Some game customs would change. No exchange of the lineup cards because that would violate social distancing. No spitting. Since there won’t be any fans, mascots would be banned, and to cut down on personnel at the ballpark, the out-of-town scoreboards won’t be operating.
The 67-page proposal was incredibly complex, and so are the issues dividing the sides.
Although MLB has said it would like a one-time 50/50 division of revenue, the players have indicated their disdain for it, believing that’s a salary cap, something they’ve never accepted.
MLB says that teams would lose huge amounts of money in games without fans. The Orioles are estimated to lose $90 million this year without revenues derived from tickets, concessions and parking. That figure is the second lowest of the 30 teams.
Players are skeptical of the economics and, with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement scheduled to be worked on a year from now, a sense of uneasiness pervades the sport and its fans.
Millions of baseball fans have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Others have had to accept furloughs and/or cuts in pay. Others are frightened that if the economy doesn’t improve, they’ll join the unlucky millions.
During the more than two months without baseball, fans have hoped that their sport would return, even if they can’t.
If the sport is to return in early July, it will be without fans, and it will be very different.
The sides have to agree on the health guidelines before they get to acrimonious economic issues, and discord there could hurt the most.
Fans who’ve suffered economic losses want to partially escape their issues by watching baseball, and they’ll have little patience if the sides can’t reach an agreement.
In late March, the players agreed to be paid on a prorated basis only for the games that were played. However, MLB contends that was only if paying fans were allowed. As it currently stands, players would get just over half their scheduled salaries based on an 82-game season. The owners say that’s not what they agreed to.
It’s imperative that an agreement be made because baseball would look bad if its season fell apart over economics. If the season couldn’t be played because of health reasons, that’s not good, but it’s an acceptable reason.
If there’s no baseball in 2020 because the sides can’t come to an agreement, it will do irreparable harm to a sport that lost millions of fans because of the 1994-1995 labor strife.
Many fans swore off baseball then, and never returned. They watched other sports or found activities to replace baseball.
Twenty-five years later, it’s a more crowded sports and entertainment environment. If fans leave baseball, they have more choices, and the sport would have a near-impossible task to lure them back.
In 1995, baseball had Cal Ripken Jr. and his streak. Ripken spent hours signing autographs, and that really helped the game, but still many fans were gone.
Now, owners and players have to be sensitive to the losses that so many of their fans have suffered.
It’s not acceptable if the owners and players write off the season because of economics and say they’ll look to 2021.
There’s no assurance that when spring training is supposed to begin next February conditions will be normal. Hopefully, a vaccine for the coronavirus will be available, but until it is or the virus runs its course, fans would be wary of coming to games.
And, there’s that CBA to negotiate after next season, too. Most fans have little interest in the economics. They just want to see the games.
If owners and players can’t come to an agreement now when times are rough, and fans are desperate to see baseball, why would they find the footing easier in 2021?
Generations of players have come and gone since the last work stoppage. Most of the owners are new to the game, too.
Players Association executive director Tony Clark didn’t start his major league career until 1995, and commissioner Rob Manfred was a lawyer advising MLB during the last stoppage.
They remember the pain and how difficult it was for baseball to recover. If they lose the season this time, it will be even harder.