Right now nothing necessarily seems ‘okay’. Everything in fact seems very, how the French say, fucked up.
The least of all the world’s concerns should be sports and the lack thereof. Yet the one thing we always dubbed our “distraction” from the real world is for the most part invisible, and as a result three things have happened:
- We’ve been forced to actually pay attention to the world around us, and you know what? It kind of sucks!
- The “distraction” is no longer the games, but the back and forth between wealthy athletes and owners about whether they’ll even play that game.
- Like Skype losing a decade long lead to Zoom, Baseball lost the momentum of a season starting to every other sport, and we have a real scenario where the NFL will more than likely return before MLB.
But, what is our relationship to sports and why does it even matter? That’s a deeper question than I’m going to tackle today, but it is the undercurrent for everything that’s happening. Baseball fans are starting to denounce the sport in droves and we are looking down the tunnel at another 1994.
The labor negotiations between Baseball owners and players has never made much sense to anyone outside of those two groups. In fact, I’m willing to bet it doesn’t make much sense to a lot of people inside those two groups. Owners want to make money. Players don’t want to make less money than they feel they are worth based on the revenue the owners are making.
Things get muddy when all we hear from owners and their accountants just how broke they all are and that they haven’t turned a profit in 300 years! It further gets confusing when you see that Baseball players are the second highest-paid professional athlete. So, which is true, who is lying, and why is money not enough?
More importantly though, why does it always feel like the fan is the only person who ultimately loses during any labor negotiation? You know, the fan, the one who makes all the jobs in your sport possible? What I love is that that has long been speculated – could a sport with no fans thrive? I believe we are seeing the answer to that question play out and it is a pretty significant “no”.
In today’s world of social media and analysts we know for a fact that owner’s make money. It may not be as much as they want, but they do. We also know that they could field competitive teams every season, but again, if they want to make the most money they can often “lose” or field a crap squad because they can manipulate the books in their favor. They became billionaires for a reason.
So, the argument of the ‘poor broke owner’ is and will forever be squashed. Right now is of course a little different, but it’s a little different for everyone in the world.
The players on the other hand have some legitimate gripes. Especially minor-leaguers who quite literally make less than servers at Denny’s. At the Major League level they see that no matter what happens owners are turning a profit. The players know for a fact that owners can give them a little more money if they wanted to, so as a player why would you not argue for that at all times?
If you worked at Denny’s and the owner of your store rolled up in a Jaguar every night, with a designer suit and gold watches, and you’re making minimum wage surviving on tips from drunks, you’d probably be pretty pissed when the owner told you they had no way of paying you more.
Makes sense, right? Kinda.
Because the fans don’t care about any of this shit. Why? We’d play professional baseball for minimum wage. This is because most of us hate our actual jobs, we also don’t get paid enough, and meanwhile these dudes are playing a game we love.
We would also kick your grandma in the face for a chance to own a franchise. I mean, in our minds that’s what fans do! We pretend we’re the GM and owners and we put together the perfect team. We also negotiate contracts down for that perfect team so we can afford every one we want. We play franchise mode on MLB The Show, or OOTP, or manage multiple fantasy teams. We want to be owners, so why does it seem that owners never want to be us?
I know I’m pretty much preaching to the choir, and not giving anyone new information here. But, I feel like that choir never includes the people it needs to. You can argue over who’s at fault – players or owners – but ultimately it won’t matter to anyone but us.
Players will get paid, maybe not as much as they’d like, but they will. To play a game you love more than anything. And, that’s not to say they don’t love it. I mean, they’ve been playing it their whole life. To be good you have to love it somewhat.
Owners will make money. Maybe not as much as they’d like, but they will. They pretty much have to. There have been very few instances in the history of Baseball where an owner actually went broke with a team, and when that happened they sold the team and made millions. The owners are gonna be okay. MLB players are gonna be okay – I mean the league minimum is over $500k, soooo…
However, just like in 1994, the only ones who won’t be okay are the fans. The ones who buy the tickets, and shirts, and jerseys, and socks, etc. In 1994 I walked away from the game for four years. The only thing that brought me back was the 1998 World Series, in which the Padres got swept. I have now talked to several folks who are walking away from the sport. Not sure if they’ll ever come back. I can’t blame them. They feel forgotten. Because they are.
Baseball’s greed has always been an issue more than other sports because they play in cathedrals often packed by 40,000+ fans 80 times a year. You can’t convince the average person that just paid $300 to get their family decent seats to a meaningless game in August that players or owners aren’t making enough. You never will.
Baseball needs to stop acting like it’s the victim. Especially during a time when all our distractions are gone and we can see with our own eyes real victims every day. Whether you agree with Black people’s lives mattering or that COVID-19 is real, people are still dying every day from both. Real problems, real victims, and hitting a ball with a bat seems pretty insignificant right now.
Maybe instead of feeling owed, you owe it to the fans to figure it out – safely – and help us all through this horrible time. Or maybe we need to be naked right now and experience the world around us, unfettered, for the first time in the digital age.
I don’t know.
Come back or don’t, but don’t forget about the people who brought you there in the first place.