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peter abraham | on baseball

We as fans love baseball — but does baseball love us back?

Baseball has not given its fans anything to cheer about this springStan Grossfeld

I can’t remember a single thing about the first Patriots game my dad took me to at old Foxboro Stadium other than we sat in traffic for hours on the way home. But the details about that first trip to Fenway Park are still vivid decades later.

As Game 3 of the 2018 World Series rolled deeper into the night at Dodger Stadium en route to 18 innings, the late Nick Cafardo turned to Dan Shaughnessy and me and laughed.

“Isn’t this great?” he said.

It was. My job is to attend baseball games, and there’s still something special about walking through Gate D at Fenway or feeling Yankee Stadium quiver with anticipation when the Sox are in the Bronx. I love everything about it.

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A lot of you feel the same passion. You’ve told me how your heart all but jumped out of your chest when Shane Victorino hit that grand slam in Game 6 of the 2013 ALCS or how upset you were, and still are, when Mookie Betts got traded in February.

Shane Victorino's grand slam in the 2013 ALCS sparked a citywide celebration.Jim Davis

But does baseball love us back?

The Red Sox, Yankees, and all the other teams should have been working out this week in preparation for what would have been a memorable July 4 Opening Day. Even with an empty ballpark, it would have been rejuvenating to watch a game on television and let your mind temporarily wander away from the troubles that have been stacked up high these last four months.

Baseball wasn’t about to cure COVID-19, restore the economy, or solve the racial inequities that have torn the nation asunder. Baseball can’t give us leaders to admire or bring back the loved ones who needlessly died.

But it could have given us some respite, if not for the failure of the people who are its supposed stewards.

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Commissioner Rob Manfred and Players Association executive director Tony Clark wasted April and May instead of hammering out a plan to play that would be ready to execute once clearance was given.

Tony Clark and Rob Manfred appear to be at an impasse.AP

The financial aspects aside, that they still have not agreed on health protocols and on-field rules is a dereliction of duty. That falls on Manfred as commissioner.

Now we’re more than two weeks into June and still subjected to competing statements, anonymous jabs through the media, and endless frustration.

Baseball hauled in $10.7 billion in revenue last year, and the players are the skilled professionals who make that financial engine hum. It’s not very appealing when they dicker over money leading up to signing a collective bargaining agreement, but it’s necessary.

But what’s going on now is tasteless.

Clark and Manfred needed to look each other in the eye in March and agree that each side would give up something for the good of the sport and the benefit of fans across the world. They would find a way.

They also needed to agree that nothing decided against the backdrop of a crisis would influence negotiations down the road — that this was a one-time event.

Instead the sides made a series of proposals to each other they knew would be rejected. The owners want the players to absorb some of the financial losses from playing games without fans. The players don’t necessarily believe there will be losses.

Deferred payments to the players, or some other concession, could have bridged the gap. But here we are.

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Will big-league ballparks sit empty all season?John Woike/Associated Press

After saying last week he was “100 percent” convinced there would be a season, Manfred said Monday he was no longer confident.

Manfred instead is trying to force another round of negotiations to achieve a settlement because he fears the union will file a grievance seeking $1 billion in damages if he exercises his powers to impose a season on the players.

Some observers believe Manfred is stalling so that baseball will play only 48 or 50 games to appease owners who want to pay out less in salaries.

What’s certain is that baseball is basically experiencing its first work stoppage since 1994. Players should be with their teams now, and they are not.

It’s not merely a lack of trust that divides the parties. Clark and Manfred don’t have a working relationship, and the game suffers as a result, with fans being chased away.

Other sports pulled together at this watershed. Baseball broke apart.

For all his befuddled-professor mannerisms, no one ever questioned whether former commissioner Bud Selig had a passion for baseball. His mistakes were errors in judgment, not of malice.

You wonder if that is true about Manfred, Selig’s former lieutenant. Does he see himself as the chief guardian of the game or the protector of ownership profits?

That answer will come soon.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.