Baseball Athletes, Owners Need to Read the Room

Who doesn't want to see Alex Bregman play again soon?
Who doesn't want to see Alex Bregman play again soon? Photo by Jack Gorman
It's incredible when you think about it. This year has seen the impeachment of a sitting president, a global pandemic that has infected over two million people and massive protests over racial inequality that are already changing the dialogue and policy in America. And we are only in June.

Which is why it is curious that baseball has taken this opportunity to behave the way it has.

Major League Soccer narrowly avoided a work stoppage and the NBA is still haggling over a combination of issues from health concerns to a desire by some to not take away from the movement of Black Lives Matter. But, both have legitimate reasons to talk and while soccer worked out its issues, the NBA is expected to do the same.

Then you have Major League Baseball, always the last to the party, arriving with nothing to offer and nothing on but a pair of blinders.

Even as the first in-person discussions in weeks and potential progress was reported on Wednesday, it somehow feels like a slap in the face to fans from "America's pastime" that so little progress has been made and all we get from either sides are threats and accusations.

The original plan was to come back July 4. Sure, there wouldn't be fans in the stands, but there would likely be millions upon millions watching from their semi-quarantined homes. For the first time since March, the country would have a distraction, a way to take a breath and relax for a second. Instead, it will come and go with little fanfare on the diamond.

Maybe basketball players have a point and we need to stay on point with critical issues like police reform and injustice for people of color, but they aren't fighting over money. Baseball isn't standing on principle. They are standing on a huge pile of money and fighting over who picks up the check for lunch.

Not only is it grotesque in a time like this to argue over a pool of money most would kill for, but it's so completely oblivious. You want to know how to quickly alienate fans? During a time of pandemics and protests and political upheaval, fight over who gets a bigger piece of a billion-dollar fortune. It's like watching heirs squabble over inheritance when their beloved relative's body is still cold.

And let's be clear, the owners bear most of the responsibility. They made a deal with the players in March and they don't want to stick to it. Some are worried about losing money — right — and others are just trying to stick it to the players in hopes of getting a much desired salary cap after the 2021 season when the current collective bargaining agreement runs out. But none of these guys are going broke anytime soon.

As to the players, they certainly could be doing more to at least sound like they care about more than salary caps and millions of dollars. It was widely expected if the owners imposed a shorter season with full prorated salaries, the players would file a grievance demanding more games so they could make more money. Talk about tone deaf.

Honestly, this season is going to have a big fat asterisk on it no matter what happens. This is the most unique situation in the history of sports. Owners should try to play as many games as possible. Players should agree to take a little off the top for the losses the league will undoubtedly incur. And both sides should agree this is a one-time thing. It's just for now. Just for the fans when they need them the most.

Anything less would not only be heartless, it would be the biggest PR mistake in the history of public relations.
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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