When the coronavirus pandemic gripped all parts of this nation and sports were shut down in mid-March, we all looked forward, waiting anxiously, for their return.
As the NBA and NHL are preparing to resume their seasons at the end of July, MLB and its Players Association long remained at an impasse with the prospects of a 2020 season diminishing with each passing day.
It appeared last week that a resolution might be imminent as the owners had agreed to a full proration of player salaries for a shortened season of 60 games. The players countered with a proposal for 70 games which was promptly rejected by the owners. Full proration had been the sticking point for the players. On Monday the players voted to reject the owners’ 60 game proposal. On Monday evening, Commissioner Rob Manfred, with the full support of the owners, exercised his authority to implement a 60-game season, subject to the sides agreeing on COVID-19 protocols regarding safety and testing measures. If all goes well, the plan is for the season to begin around July 24 .
This resolution only serves to heighten the acrimony between owners and players, which is likely to come to a head in a year and a half after the 2021 season.
To me, there was a much simpler solution that might well benefit one of the two sides, with future public relations benefits.
Let’s say the owners agreed to play a 70-game schedule and that other parts of the reported agreement were in place. Not only could the owners take credit for ending the impasse and ensuring a 2020 season, their ‘concession’ could be used as a bargaining chip when the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) comes up for negotiation following the 2021 season. And in those negotiations the owners could make their case for public support by pointing to their concessions this season that gave baseball back to the fans.
The same would apply to the players receiving public support if it were they who agreed to the owners’ demand for a 60 game 2020 season.
The thought of a season without baseball was saddening, especially in an environment that could benefit as a distraction from the effects of COVID-19 and the massive unemployment and other economic ills precipitated by the virus.
In a weird way, baseball’s tarnished reputation may yet be saved by the virus. With the recent upsurge in positive cases and hospitalizations, MLB closed training camps in Florida and Arizona – two of the hardest hit states – late last week. Players on several teams have tested positive and the prospects for states reinstating restrictions increasingly becomes a consideration. Even with this commissioner-imposed agreement, baseball may be forced into cancelling the 2020 season either before it starts or while underway should COVID-19 not level off again as it did between mid April and late May..
Professional baseball has been played continuously since the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the sport’s first professional team in 1869 with the first league formed two years later.
Of course I’ll look forward to handicapping baseball, wagering on the games, poring over the stats and writing my weekly columns. But most of all I’ll be excited for the game itself. I am, first and foremost, a baseball fan. It’s a game of poetic beauty, with simplistic rules but nuanced strategy. A game with symmetry that’s not entirely governed by a clock.
I’ve been a sports fan all my life and baseball was my first love. It was the first sport I played as a child and it was the first professional sporting event I attended. The basic memories of that experience remain as vivid today as they’ve been ever since that summer evening in 1962 when I attended my first Major League baseball game.
It was Friday, August 10 and although I had already become a Mets fan (it was their first season) my dad had gotten four tickets to that night’s game at Yankee Stadium against the Detroit Tigers. He, I and two of my friends from around the corner drove to the game. It was a drive that took barely over an hour but seemed much longer due to our heightened anticipation.
I remember walking to our seats and marveling at the greenest grass I’d ever seen. The Yankees scored in each of the first three innings en route to an 8-0 win. Getting to see Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle was a thrill, as was seeing the lone home run of the game. Bobby Richardson hit a two-run shot in the fifth inning, his sixth of what would be a career high eight-home run season. Whitey Ford pitched seven and a third innings to get the win and improve to 12-5.
Those details, which I remembered, were confirmed thanks to baseballreference.com
The Yankees would go on to win the World Series two months later in dramatic fashion. With two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth Willie McCovey hit a searing line drive towards right field that was snared by the aforementioned Richardson.
The catch likely prevented a Game 7 Series-ending ‘walk off’ base hit and preserved the Yanks’ 1-0 series clinching win. It was a Series marked by several rain postponements as well as one in which neither team won back-to-back games.
I mentioned that I grew up a Mets fan. And I was a passionate Mets fan. Up until when I learned baseball was first and foremost a business.
It was June 15, 1977. The Mets traded “The Franchise” – pitcher Tom Seaver – to Cincinnati, largely due to Seaver’s dissatisfaction with his own contract as well as dissatisfaction that the organization was not spending money to improve the team. I
It was in the early days of free agency. I, along with thousands of Mets fans, were both angry and devastated. I still love the game but have never looked at it the same way again.
I became a fan of the game itself and its inherent beauty. I enjoyed following teams that put their fans at the forefront of their goals.
To me, it was important not so much that a team actually was a winner but that ownership was spending money to put a winning team on the field. After all, it’s a business and that meant spending money to invest in your product to attract and satisfy your customers.
A few years earlier, in 1973, George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees from CBS and began to spend large amounts of money to stock his team with some of the most talented players in the game. In the nearly half-century since, the Yanks have been the most successful MLB franchise, winning seven World Series titles and appearing in three others.
I still root for the Yankees, but with nowhere near the passion I had for the Mets during my formative years of innocence when baseball, to me, was just a game to be enjoyed.