It was never supposed to be this way. Sadly, it was probably always going to be this way.
After a winter of discontent, the players and owners have until this evening to come together on a deal that will save the entirety of the 2022 season. MLB has said that games cancelled will not be made up, though I would not rule out that being a negotiating tactic that can be modified in whatever final form the CBA takes. After all, when you are piling up monstrosities, why not add a few more seven inning doubleheaders to the pile?
Setting aside the economic issues, which are of course the major thrust of these negotiations, what we are hearing from the baseball side of things takes us farther and farther away from how I understood baseball growing up and the game that I initially embraced. To be fair, I’m a guy that doesn’t much like change in general and I’m still not sold that interleague play and the wild cards make the game better, though I also realize the Cardinals have taken advantage of said rules and that said rules aren’t going anywhere. (I’d rather four divisions with the winners going to the playoffs, even though the divisions would be smaller.) What’s out there now, though, goes even farther.
The playoffs seem almost certain to be expanded, whether it is to 12 teams or 14. Fourteen teams in a 30 team league means that basically every other team gets a chance to win the World Series. Does that seem right to you? That means there’s more of a chance that a team gets in with a 79-82 record, which is not a team that deserves to be rewarded for a season done right. That’s not a team that deserves the chance to get hot, ride a pitcher or two, and win the whole thing. People still complain about the ’06 Cardinals, who were a better team than the 83 wins showed (and, had they not had an eight-game losing streak in the final week, would have likely finished with 85 wins or so, which seems less egregious). Do we really want to see a repeat of 2000, when (in smaller samples, of course) sub-.500 teams played in October? I don’t, but I’m a grumpy old man.
That’s what the owners want. The players, perhaps trying to work a deal, have suggested that when the playoffs do expand, there should be “ghost wins”. That is, a team will go into the playoff series up 1-0 even though a game hasn’t been played. If teams can win when they don’t even play, maybe we should hope for the cancellation of April so the Cards can start the season 27-0. It would seem that, outside of a forfeit, one of the bedrock assumptions of competition is that you have to play to win. Seems like that’s a saying, right? You have to play to win. Now the players are trying to win without having to play.
Then you toss in the universal designated hitter, which I know a lot of people like but I’m no fan of, and the game of the 1980s–not the style, which left a long time ago, but the structure–slides farther back into antiquity.
Look, I’m not saying we go back to the 1950s and say that the winner of the National League and the winner of the American League are the only teams that make the playoffs. That ship has sailed (and, with about double the teams than there were back then, that makes sense). What I am saying is that baseball, at least at the major league level, is starting to become unrecognizable to the older fan.
Which is the rub for baseball, isn’t it? Because right now for all intents their fans are older. We continue to hear how baseball has trouble marketing their players and the game to young people coming up, how it slides down the list of sports that teenagers and the coveted marketing segments rank as their favorites. So if you can’t reach new fans and you are pushing away old fans, what do you have left?
This is the first post I’ve written in 2022. While the winter is always a slow time for me (probably to the relief of those that read this stuff), usually I’ve had a number by now, dealing with the Winter Warm-Up, the beginning of spring training, and things like that. In a normal year, we’d be starting the Playing Pepper series a week from today. I’ve done a couple of podcasts, but overall these first two months have been relatively baseball free. Much like in 2020, I’ve also found that I could do without it. I’ve got other things to occupy my time–books to read, games to play, family to be with. I want baseball back, to be sure, but I’m finding more and more that I don’t need baseball back.
Does that mean I’m going to retire the blog, sign off on the podcasts, and move on? No, that’s not the plan. Whenever baseball comes back I’m sure I’ll still be watching, still be commenting. It’s just that it’s getting more and more to the point that if I miss a game, I miss a day writing, it doesn’t bother me. When the Strike of ’94 came as I started my second year of college, it was much more of a dagger. It meant a lot more than. Now? I hope that they come to some sort of agreement today that gets us back on the road to Opening Day. If they don’t, though, the idea of missed baseball games doesn’t have the same weight that it used to have.
It feels much more like they won’t get something done today, however, if the gaps in the positions being reported are accurate. It was encouraging that they met for so long yesterday, at least putting out the appearance that they wanted to get something done. It’s a little frustrating that the players have given up so much already, putting them in a position of getting a “win” but not a substantial one. Some analysts say that what they are proposing right now is what the owners would be proposing in a more reasonable world. It’s not exactly a player-friendly CBA no matter who wins out, it seems.
Yet the owners, perhaps looking at what sabermetrics has taught, that you have to squeeze everything out and take every advantage even if it makes the game less enjoyable, aren’t satisfied with what the players are offering. They want to keep costs down so far while the money in baseball keeps increasing. If you want to be charitable, you could say they see the TV revenue from the regional networks drying up very soon and they are trying to adjust to that, but I think that’s giving them way more credit than they deserve. Besides, if they got rid of blackouts, they could sell MLB.tv directly to folks for much more than they are selling it now and recoup a lot of that money. (Also, if you are inclined to making statements whether they are heard or not, MLB.tv will be renewing tomorrow if you have it on auto-renew. Many folks are cancelling that to hopefully show MLB their displeasure. I imagine it’s much like an ant expressing displeasure to a shoe, but sometimes it’s the principle of the thing.)
I don’t know that the owners are obligated to give the players everything they want but there’s no doubt they could do a lot better than they have been doing. Opening Day depends on them being more interested in the product than the bottom line, so let that guide what you think will happen today.
As for me, I’m still a fan. Just not as fanatical. I’m sure that once the season starts and you get back into a routine of games and pennant races, some of this malaise will subside, but right now it’s hard to care much if they play or not. Hopefully they can get things settled and we can get back to that routine!