Greed keeps baseball from ‘Batter Up’

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It was great to see the lights come back on last week in Las Vegas. It felt good to be able to walk into a casino and make a bet, get something to eat or drink and have a little fun.

The sight of the LED boards flashing odds in the sportsbook was encouraging, even if the menu is somewhat limited. But that’s going to change soon.

The NBA is going to resume play in July. The NHL is looking to do likewise as its players began skating Monday. But something is still missing.

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We still don’t have Major League Baseball. With each passing day, it’s looking more like we won’t have a season. The owners and players are squabbling over money and both sides are coming across as petty and selfish during a time when the coronavirus has put more than 40 million Americans out of work and more than 107,000 have died.

Normally, there would be huge outrage across the country over this. Baseball has always been a constant in our lives and it has served as a diversion during tough times. The game went on during the 1918-19 Spanish Flu outbreak. It didn’t stop during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It didn’t go on pause during World War II. It came back strong after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It has always been there for us.

But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention the national response to social injustice the past couple of weeks following the death of George Floyd, people don’t seem to be missing baseball as much. There are bigger issues.

The idea of billionaire owners and millionaire players squabbling over money not only comes across as tone deaf, but it is insensitive given the times. Play 82 games or 114 or 50? Take a pay cut? Then another? Tell that to the guy who lost his job in late March and filed for unemployment and is still waiting for his first check in the second week of June.

You read the daily back-and-forth between the sides and you throw up your hands in disgust. Whether they play or not, baseball is going to collectively lose billions this season. My simplistic thought to this is the owners: wouldn’t you rather lose a little than lose a lot? Wouldn’t you rather get some of your salary than none if you’re a player?

But both sides will tell you it’s not that simple. They’ll say baseball isn’t basketball or hockey. It’s a very different dynamic. They may be telling the truth, but how come the NBA can figure things out? The NHL is managing to find a way to resume its season. Golf, auto racing, mixed martial arts, even boxing, which can be more dysfunctional than any sport, are back up and running.

Yet baseball can’t even get to the on-deck circle, much less into the batter’s box. It’s stuck in 1994, the last time there was a strike. Back then, it struck a sour note with many fans, some who vowed never to return. This time, no baseball may be met with a shrug and “Who cares?”

Even those who bet on baseball have found a way to stay in action as Nevada’s sportsbooks have been taking bets on the Korea Baseball Organization. It’s not MLB and it means getting up in the wee hours to watch, but it’s something to watch and wager on.

Last year, $1.121 billion was wagered legally on baseball in the Silver State. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a huge number given Nevada generated $144.59 billion last year in overall casino gaming. And when you consider the tens of billions in lost revenue the casinos had suffered during the 78-day pause in business going back to March 18, baseball betting is a blip on the casinos’ economic radar. Still, the books would love to have some of that action back.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that’s going to happen. A friend of mine who covers the sport and its economics said he doesn’t expect to see a baseball season. The gulf is too wide to bridge and the clock is approaching midnight. Neither side is willing to budge and the likelihood of further compromise appears slim.

Monday, there was a new proposal, one that called for a 76-game schedule with players getting 75 percent of their salaries. I’m not sure that’s going to be good enough to get a deal done. Maybe common sense will prevail. We’ll see.

By not playing, the game runs the risk of alienating loyal fans while at the same time, having the apathy of those who casually follow it along with not having the ability to cultivate the next generation to support the sport. 

People are finding ways to entertain themselves without baseball and they may come to the conclusion that it’s no big deal if they can’t visit the ballpark. They’ll find something else to do.

Out of sight, out of mind. 

 

 

 

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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