Sports

Four Thoughts as the MLB Lockout Drags On

Carlos Correa is still waiting to find out where he'll play next season as the lockout continues.
Carlos Correa is still waiting to find out where he'll play next season as the lockout continues. Photo by Jack Gorman
Right now, pitchers and catchers should be tossing baseballs across the diamond in preparation for the start of spring training. Right now, we should be in the throes of discussing what teams will be doing in the MLB season and how the NL is going to handle the universal designated hitter.

Instead, we are listening to occasional press conferences from commissioner Rob Manfred and reading about salary arbitration and luxury tax percentages. Welcome to the MLB lockout.

As the days get longer, so apparently does the league's lockout of its players in an effort to settle differences over how to split up billions of dollars in revenue. It's a particularly stark reality for baseball considering the backdrop of one of the most wildly competitive and successful NFL postseasons in history, the drama and controversy of the Olympic games in Beijing, and NBA's All-Star weekend.

For baseball fans, it is a bummer and for the general public, it's particularly grotesque when you consider the physical and financial toll COVID-19 has taken on the world the last two years. And yet, here we are and no sign as to just exactly where we go next.

Do not expect the season to start on time.

Reportedly, the owners have given the players a timeline as to when they believe games will begin to be lost. That date is not public, but it isn't tough to figure out. If the teams aren't practicing by March 1, there is little chance Opening Day will be on schedule. And every day after that is going to put immense pressure on the league to begin shortening the season. With very little movement on the proposals that are out there, it appears unlikely a deal will be struck by March 1, so we all need to be prepared for losing games. How many is yet to be determined, but there will most certainly be some.

The Astros should absolutely push Justin Verlander through a full spring training.

The last time JV went through an abbreviated spring throwing session, he wound up having to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss two years of playing. If we had the say with the Astros, we would require that Verlander have a full if not extended Spring Training to make sure he is healthy for the entire season. They will need their former ace, particularly if they make it back to the playoffs, where they struggled on the mound last season.

There couldn't have been a worse time to lock out players.

A lockout is never a good thing. Haggling over money for a sport is unseemly at best, downright disgusting at worst. But when you add in the calculus of a million people dead from a virus, those feelings are amplified. Never mind the fact that the NFL looks like the greatest show on earth and even the Olympics, mired in controversy over being held in a communist country and new Russian doping scandals, are putting "amateur" athletes under the brightest winter lights in the world right now. They only do this once every four years! Talk about crappy timing for baseball.

If you want to lay blame, leave it at the feet of the owners.

Players are naturally the faces of baseball. And it is easy to make them out to be selfish, demanding millions of dollars to play a game, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. But, this is a lockout in which they are trying to guarantee the huge sums of money that are being funneled into the game are divided equitably, particularly for guys who aren't making $15 million a year. The owners recognize it hurts players, particularly the minimum salary guys, more than it hurts them to miss games and they are counting on it. They are also counting on fans forgetting that it all happened and vilifying players for their selfishness.

Don't do it. Sure, there are good examples of players being paid obscene amounts of money to play baseball, but it pales in comparison to the billions raked in by owners. They aren't being reasonable in their demands. They don't have to be. They are hoping to just wait out the players while they struggle. It's gross on both sides, but the teams seem far more despicable in this instance even if fans might not see it that way.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke