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MLB and MLBPA Negotiations: A Fan’s Lament

There’s much more at stake here than the 2020 season.

Minute Maid Park by Eric Kilby is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

MLB and MLBPA Negotiations: A Fan’s Lament

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The “negotiations” between MLB and the MLBPA, after reaching an ugly impasse, may be coming to an end. The league and the players appear close to an agreement on a 60-game proposal that would kick off the 2020 campaign in mid-July.

Just kidding! After a unified “when and where” position to get back on the field, the players made a new counter offer on Friday that the league wasted no time in rejecting. This circus seems destined to continue forever.

And while this mess is certainly the doing of both the owners and MLBPA alike, it’s the attitude of the players in this process that has left me somewhat unnerved. And until recently, I couldn’t put my finger on why. But as I saw statement after statement from players telling everyone to basically “think about the fans“, it’s become clearer to me.

The players think getting a deal done that restarts this COVID-shortened season is enough to save a sport on the brink of disaster. But simply bringing the sport back is not good enough. Because the product, as it stands, is not good enough.

Here’s a bit of a shocker.

Baseball is no longer America’s pastime. This isn’t 1999, 1986, or 1965. Fans are not lining up in droves to watch games that take up to 4 hours. The product is as unwatchable as it’s ever been, in this humble fan’s opinion. And yet the players deal out the sympathy card, telling the owners that they are hurting the fans by sidestepping a salary deal and delaying the restart. Think of the fans. Think of the fans. But were players telling everyone to think of the fans as ticket sales dropped year after year? Or when the average time between balls in play ballooned to nearly 4 minutes? The time to focus on the fan perspective was ten years ago, in hindsight. When games could still wrap up by 10 p.m.

As a fervent supporter of on-the-field-reform for the sport, this kind of dissonance can be aggravating. When ideas to improve the pace of play are brought to the players, they are often dismissed or rejected. “Don’t mess with the fabric of the game“, is usually the response. But now, an agreement needs to be made to restart the 2020 season for the sake of the fans? But the pitch clock, that’s just nonsense?

Get a deal done. Or don’t. To me, the game has such massive on-the-field problems that the existence of a 2020 season in any form is not important. What really matters is the eventual product that we get when the dust settles. When the threat of COVID is hopefully lessened, some kind of CBA agreement is reached, and the players once again take the field in front of fans. It’s the fans who need to be prioritized. And not just when it’s a convenient argument that makes your negotiations stronger.

Maybe a year off wouldn’t be a bad thing. Time to reset and refocus for players and owners alike. Time to actually work together as a unit. And plan out not simply a way for the game to come back.

But to come back better.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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