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Gary Washburn

MLB’s attitude to fans is unforgivable

Fenway Park has been empty this year.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

So it’s June 22, and in normal times the Red Sox would have just completed an enthralling road series with the Chicago Cubs, with the Sunday night game likely being an ESPN telecast to complete the battle of the two most beloved teams of America’s pastime.

Instead, baseball is at a standstill, not only because of the pandemic but also because the power on both sides — the players and owners — can’t agree on a plan to resume play. Major League Baseball has watched the NBA, MLS, and NHL devise plans to return to action and, although they are not optimal and will use only one or two locations, it’s the best they can do in these bizarre times.


As for baseball, the powers keep arguing over number of games in the abbreviated schedule and salary compensation for players. It’s almost as if this once-beloved and revered sport is trying to lose fans. Those who love the game don’t want to hear about the exorbitant player salaries, but it’s the only sport without a salary cap.

A sport that always seems to be a decade or so behind its brethren in terms of marketing its players — Mike Trout is the best player of the generation but would you recognize him if he walked into a Trader Joe’s? — selling its sport to the Black community and attracting a young audience is again clueless in how it’s perceived outside its own bubble.

We eventually forgave baseball after the 1994 strike, a period in the game where the players and owners drowned in their own arrogance and were overtaken by the NFL in popularity. We eventually got over the Steroid Era, where Major League Baseball was five years late in implementing any type of performance-enhancing drug policy and allowed the game’s premium players to take damn near every over-the-counter substance as long as the container didn’t read “Maximum Strength Steroids” on the front.


We have watched as some of the game’s most talented players — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez — have had their accomplishments questioned because they were implicated in this scandal, and we still have no idea how much PEDs had to do with their prowess. So they sit in purgatory for perhaps the rest of their lives — probably down the hall from the Pete Rose Suite — until the sport decides to forgive them.

Meanwhile, the commissioner during these turbulent times — Bud Selig — gets elected to the Hall of Fame.

And still we have forgiven. We look forward to every February when pitchers and catchers report. We enjoy sitting in our heated Boston homes during these frigid springs and watching the Sox play in sunny Fort Myers. There’s still an innocence to the game. The game still conjures childhood memories of listening to late-night ballgames in your bedroom when you’re supposed to be asleep.

Because of this, we give baseball more chances than Bobby Brown. We keep hoping that baseball will eventually get it, that the players realize they are earning the richest contracts in professional sports. That Bryce Harper signed a $330 million contract and then watched as the team he left won the World Series.

Rob Manfred speaks to the media at last year's owners meeting in Texas.LM Otero/Associated Press

And maybe these self-absorbed, clueless owners will understand they are irrevocably damaging their sport with greed and pettiness while the commissioner, Rob Manfred, and his Mr. Magoo-like statements is actually making us miss Selig.


Maybe it will take another canceled season — this time in the middle of the most difficult economic time in two generations and deep racial reflection after the death of George Floyd — for Major League Baseball to actually understand how much it casually takes us for granted.

The players were supposed to vote on the owners’ 60-game offer and didn’t, as if they have plenty of time. The All-Star Game, scheduled for my favorite Dodger Stadium on July 14, is generally the 60-percent mark of the season. And yet baseball players have yet to even schedule when they would resume training for an abbreviated season.

What's next for Tony Clark and the players?Morry Gash/Associated Press

There’s no sense of urgency. Both sides would rather win the battle. The refusal to take into account the state of the world, the importance of sport, and their affluence is only going to spurn fans again. It’s as if baseball lives in its own disoriented reality with the mentality of, “Don’t worry, they’ll take us back again.”

Is this the last straw? Can we take another season cancellation? Will the sport ever be the same? Will need it to be saved again by another home-run chase — this time drug free?

It seems baseball is running out of equity. How many times can you revert to your childhood for your most cherished memories? Currently airing on ESPN is a “30 for 30″ documentary on the McGwire-Sosa home run barrage in 1998 and how it resuscitated baseball. But each man had to explain how they essentially cheated the sport with PED use — with baseball’s blind urging — to reach those lofty numbers.


We still have a debate over who the all-time home run leader is. If you’re over 50, it’s Hank Aaron. If you’re under 50, it’s Bonds. That’s dysfunctional.

And yet, we sit here on June 22 hoping these guys reach some type of agreement to bring the sport back. We are pathetic, in a sense, still with a child’s heart yearning for Opening Day, hungering for the sound of the bat on the ball, and the simplicity of the organ blaring during a Red Sox rally.

Yet, we are nowhere close to these desires. Baseball is taking advantage of our adoration and it’s wrong. The question is: Will we ever get fed up?

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.