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Haskell's Hot Stove

'For love of the game' rings hollow from MLB players, owners

By Mark Haskell | Jun 24, 2020

I am fortunate my parents have been married 47 years. Marriage, or any union, is never easy or perfect. You might bicker and argue about things here and there, but it usually is short-lived, cooler heads prevail, you move on and the other person passes you the potatoes.

However, I have many friends or relatives who come from divorced families. It is never pretty. The fighting typically is constant and after either or both reach a point of no return, in come the lawyers and, life as you know it, comes to a halt.

Right now, I feel that way about Major League Baseball.

The last three months have seen the sides of this large labor strife between the MLB and MLB Player’s Association — led by commissioner Rob Manfred and union executive director Tony Clark — waiting for the other to blink, cutting down and undermining the other side at every turn, as each looked for a more substantial piece of the pie.

And not just any pie. A 2020 pie that quite frankly, no one should be excited about eating.

On Monday, June 22 the MLBPA voted by a 33-5 margin to reject MLB’s most recent proposal of a 60-game regular-season schedule with an expanded postseason to get America’s pastime in the present and back on the field.

Later Monday, MLB voted unanimously to proceed with the 2020 season and can, without the approval of the player’s association, implement its own schedule, which it did, to the tune of a 60-game schedule under the terms of their initial agreement with the MLBPA on March 26.

There will be tweaks to the format, such as a universal designated hitter, teams will begin the season with 30 players on their roster (as opposed to the traditional 26) in an attempt to offset fatigue and injuries and, in extra-inning games, the offense will begin each half inning with a runner on second base (in an effort to hopefully shorten marathon games with a condensed schedule). The latter rule will not apply for postseason games.

So, it looks as if we are going to have a MLB season, with a start date of Thursday or Friday, July 23 or July 24, as players return to "spring" training on Wednesday, July 1, if the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic) allows.

And as a fan of baseball since I was 12 years old, I can honestly say I could not care less.

Do not get me wrong. I am not going to stand on a soapbox and say I will never watch baseball again. But I also think I may speak for most when I say, at this juncture, I have no interest in reinvesting in a sport represented by sides who clearly have lost touch with their fans and the rest of the country.

With the mid-July start date, and players reporting to camp July 1, what type of shape are these players even going to be in? In the best of circumstances, there will be few to no days off (60 games in 66 days) and likely many doubleheaders just to get the season’s allotted games in (do not forget about rain outs).

So the game likely is not only going to be diluted in length but in quality. Any small injury can became a more significant one in a hurry without the proper conditioning, and with a 60-game season, an injury of any kind could be season-ending.

And, not only are the players likely not in the best playing shape, I do not know if they have looked around of late, but neither is our country.

From the continuing effects of COVID-19 and the economic and social fallout that has followed, to deep-rooted racism and subsequent rioting having thrown gasoline on the fire, this country feels like Woodstock ’99 and Rage Against The Machine is about to take the stage.

But, you know what binds many of us together? Sports. Baseball, in particular.

It is warm apple pie. It is an iced tea on the back deck with the game on the radio. It is as much the crack of the bat and pop of a mitt as it is a hot dog and cold beer. It is all of it.

It is America’s pastime, in its simplest terms.

And in a time where the leader of our country cannot even seem to accidentally say something uplifting or inspirational that would give the average American a glimpse of hope for our futures, baseball could have well been the banner that carried us through the long — and I do mean long — summer where we have nothing to do but wait for a fall that could well bring more uncertainty, led by more economic upheaval, more remote learning for schools and a second wave of coronavirus.

Instead, we have been able to watch millionaires and billionaires fight over millions of dollars. And instead of watching a squeeze play that brings a run to the plate, we have been able to watch rioting and looting seemingly round the clock live from the most heavily populated cities in the country.

And the way both sides have been posturing in the media, making it sound as if the opposing side’s greed is solely responsible for the work stoppage, well, gross.

Manfred came out to state “The owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field,” followed by him saying, days later, he was not confident there would be a season. Clark dropped the infamous “when-and-where” bomb to signify the players are ready to get back to work — which players such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and others have parroted on social media — only to have the players continue to reject offers from MLB.

It is all so disingenuous and bad look for the game at all angles.

Neither side has been willing to sacrifice for the other. Neither willing to accept anything short of a home run for their side. Now, with the calendar rapidly approaching the “dog days of summer” portion of 2020, is when the sides hammer out a deal?

For me? It is too late.

If regular seasons were typically 200 games instead of 162, you can bet they would still be battling in the conference rooms right now instead of preparing to return to the diamonds.

The season, and the continuation of the started spring training, originally was halted due to coronavirus and they used that pandemic to delve into painful labor negotiations. The disagreements easily could have been tabled to the following year to put the product the country needed now more than ever back on the field.

As a country, I feel like we needed baseball more than ever. Instead, we have seen nothing but perpetual greed from both sides.

What is interesting is one of the greatest points of contention is the fact that us, the fans, will not be able to come to the ballparks, and the owners are trying to find a way to replace that lost revenue, hence the efforts to attempt to sell advertisements on uniforms (which did not stick) and make radical changes in attempt to drum up more interest in the league.

So, in essence, Clark is the mom, Manfred the dad and me? Well, we? We are the children. Sitting back, kind of watching them fight over us, right in front of us, at the dinner table.

I am sure that once the season gets going, many of us will tune in. With the current state of affairs, we are looking for any and all suitable distractions and for anything to help us feel a semblance of normalcy. For me from May to October, that normalcy always has been baseball.

While this is not a strike, the last work stoppage was in 1994 and had it not been for the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase in 1998, it likely is the sport would never have fully recovered.

McGwire and Sosa are not walking through that door this time.

“Tell us when and where.” Sure.

I better not hear a player say: “For the love of the game” ever again.

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