Since the coronavirus shut down all sports in March, the question has been how or when these games will return. Major League Baseball was one of the first sports to announce possible comeback scenarios, with some ideas coming in early April. In mid-May, the owners agreed to a plan that featured an early July start date and an 82-game season.
The national pastime returning on Independence Day and a month before any of the other major North American pro sports come back seemed too glorious to be true. All of the seemingly good progress MLB made in April and most of May was overtaken by salary disputes between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association in late May and so far in June.
When the season was initially suspended in March due to COVID-19, the two parties agreed to a deal where players’ salaries would be prorated based on the number of games played. However, on May 26, MLB proposed an economic plan that would drastically slash the salaries of players, which was soundly rejected by the players.
The MLBPA countered with a plan that featured a longer season and the prorated salaries the sides agreed to in March, which MLB denied. In response, MLB proposed a scenario where the players would get the prorated salaries they wanted, but the season would be much shorter, only around 50 games. Not surprisingly, the Players Association turned down the offer. Other proposals have been sent by both sides within the last week, and they’ve been rejected.
Now, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the possible early July start is gone and MLB and the MLBPA are nowhere close to an agreement to start the season, making the scenario of no 2020 season increasingly more likely.
And no season would be a disaster for MLB.
For almost two centuries, baseball has been a beacon of light that symbolizes that the U.S. is strong and will be OK. Soldiers played baseball in between battles during the Civil War, and MLB played through both World Wars and the 1918 influenza pandemic.
On Sept. 21, 2001, 10 days after the World Trade Center attacks, New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza hit a home run that gave New Yorkers one of their first chances to smile and have fun since the terrorist attack. On May 1, 2011, the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed was released during a Mets-Philadelphia Phillies game, causing chants of “U-S-A” throughout the ballpark.
This year, baseball could’ve united the nation and shown that the country can successfully recover from COVID-19 and somewhat return to normalcy, but MLB has dithered and argued over money instead.
In addition, by returning about a month before the NBA or NHL, baseball had a chance to become relevant in the U.S. spotlight. According to Yahoo Sports in January 2018, more people prefer to watch football or basketball rather than baseball. And in a time where people are desperate to watch any sports, baseball could’ve filled that void and seen a boost in its popularity and ratings.
Plus, having a season canceled due to financial concerns would be a bad look for the sport. If the players came out and said that they were unwilling to play and risk their lives due to the coronavirus, that would be one thing and people may understand. However, in a nation where millions of people are unemployed, millionaires and billionaires disputing over money gives off a bad sense of social awareness.
The current debates have been compared to the MLB strike of 1994-95, where disputes of money caused the last month and a half of the 1994 regular season and the entire postseason that year to be canceled. Due to the strike, the 1995 season didn’t start until late April.
MLB struggled in the public eye after the strike. According to Baseball Reference, MLB’s average attendance in 1994 was a then-record 31,256. In 1995, it was just over 25,000. MLB worked hard to improve its public image — with the home run boom from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s helping draw people back in — but if this season is canceled, it may cause an irreparable rift between the league and the fans.
For the first two months after sports shut down because of the coronavirus, MLB seemed to make strides toward getting a season started up. However, due to bickering over how to share money, a 2020 campaign has been put in jeopardy. And no season could have long-lasting repercussions that the league may be unable to fix.
Contact Joshua Gingrich at email@example.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.