It should be good news that a 60-game baseball season will start on July 23 or 24. At long last, play ball.
But it doesn’t feel that way.
Commissioner Rob Manfred finally gave in on Monday night and decided on the parameters of the season after the Players Association voted down the latest proposal from Major League Baseball.
The sides finalized their lingering issues on Tuesday night, and the players will resume spring training on July 1. For the Red Sox, that will be at Fenway Park.
But in the end, the owners and players came away losers after weeks of bickering.
Manfred built his career as a labor lawyer on being able to make deals; it’s what positioned him to succeed Bud Selig commissioner. But at a time when baseball needed consensus in the face of a pandemic, record unemployment, and a national reckoning on racism, Manfred could not deliver.
Baseball fractured as other leagues came together. That it fell to the commissioner to force the players back on the field per the terms of a temporary agreement made when the pandemic struck in March is a failure.
But Manfred shouldn’t wear the blame alone. That executive director Tony Clark and the Players Association chose this moment to demonstrate their solidarity by rejecting every proposal the owners made was a complete misjudgment of the situation.
Many of MLB’s proposals were non-starters. But the union’s goal seemed more about sending a message and dealing Manfred a setback than making a deal. They rejected compromise at every turn.
Manfred flew to Arizona last week to meet with Clark and issued a hopeful statement afterward that said they had a “jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement.”
Fourteen minutes later, Clark put out his own statement refuting that. They couldn’t even agree what they agreed on.
Hammering out an agreement meant MLB deputy commissioner and chief legal officer Dan Halem and MLBPA senior director of collective bargaining Bruce Meyer had work to do. They instead distinguished themselves by sending each other insulting letters they knew would be leaked to the media.
That both sides thought that was a good idea speaks to how oblivious they were to the outside world.
As the fruitless negotiations wore on, the owners hid behind their castle walls, none stepping forward to break the stalemate. Some were too busy furloughing employees or cutting their pay.
Meanwhile, there were prominent players more concerned with live streaming their video games than getting involved.
Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season and the players need a better deal than the one they foolishly agreed to last time. The owners won’t want to give up the ground they gained.
That fight should have waited, but it started in April and continues on.
With any sense of urgency, baseball could have had players in camp two or three weeks ago preparing for Opening Day on July 4. Now, instead of a four-week head start on the NBA and other sports, they’ll be part of the crowd.
What would have been an exciting 16-team playoff will revert back to 10. MLB had a series of experimental rules lined to make a shorter season more interesting. Many were wiped away.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, usually a polarizing figure, had it right.
“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff,” he wrote on Twitter. “How is this good for anyone involved?
“COVID-19 already presented a lose, lose, lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse.”
As baseball wasted time, new cases of coronavirus are spiking in many states, including Arizona, Florida, and Texas, and MLB ordered all the spring training sites be closed.
It seems inevitable there will be positive tests once players and coaches report to their teams. Nobody can predict with any certainty whether the season will get started or be completed once it does.
If games are played, people who love baseball will forget about the rancor and pay attention. Every dramatic column predicting the demise of baseball has been wrong.
But remember this: At a time when so many others were suffering true adversity, Manfred, Clark, and those they represent were unable to agree on how best to play a game.