The most important week of MLB negotiations is underway and the future of the sport is in the balance. Baseball is dying and the clock is ticking.
What was once America’s past time is now an afterthought. The Super Bowl is over, and the NBA is in the middle of their All-Star break. Teams reporting to Spring Training could be grabbing headlines. Some massive moves were made during the offseason and it would have been our first chance to see familiar faces in new uniforms.
Instead, in the rare instance, that baseball is brought up, the conversation revolves around greedy owners and stubborn sides. Negotiations have been the equivalent of two sides entrenched in their positions as they lob grenades, each refusing to give an inch.
The MLB cannot afford negative publicity. Over the past decade, the game has grown increasingly boring. Strikeouts and home runs have taken over the name of the game. The games are longer, fewer balls are put in play, and the product is boring.
On top of that, the fan base is divided up into regional audiences. In the NFL the common fan can sit down on a Monday night and watch two teams that they have no association with. The NBA has global superstars like LeBron James. What does the MLB have going for them?
Most fans are not staying up to watch Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN unless their team is playing in the game. The MLB’s best player, Mike Trout, could walk into a grocery store today and the average American wouldn’t recognize him. While coming to a new labor agreement won’t solve any of these problems, it will stop the bleeding for a sport that seems to continually shoot itself in the foot.
When the MLB has been able to grab major headlines it has been because of a cheating scandal that put the integrity of the game in question yet again, a botched Hall of Fame voting, and a work stoppage. The current lockout halted a free agent frenzy where record amounts of money were being spent and roster shakeups mirrored an NBA style of excitement.
For a sport that is struggling to attract a young fan base, they are not doing themselves any favors. This is the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history.
The longest came in 1994 and nearly killed the sport completely. A World Series champion was not crowned. Two months of regular-season games were lost. The Montreal Expos franchise essentially deteriorated as a result and halted Micheal Jordan’s baseball career came to an abrupt end. Tony Gwynn was robbed of a chance to cement his name in the record books falling just short of batting .400. Worst of all fans across the country abandoned the sport. If the MLB isn’t careful the current lockout could have similar consequences.
On February 10th Rob Manfred came out and said “I consider missing games as a disastrous outcome for this industry.”
If no ground is gained during this week’s negotiations that could be the outcome they are headed towards. The two sides are set to meet every day this week to hash out a deal. Manfred estimates that teams will need four weeks of spring training, and less than a week to open camps once a labor agreement is reached. If all of this is to happen before Opening Day it is do or die time.
If the MLB misses regular-season games as a result of this lockout the optics will be tough to overcome. This is just one of the many things in a broad spectrum of issues. If or when the lockout ends the MLB needs to take a long look in the mirror or baseball will continue to fade into irrelevancy.