Home Sports MLB is now at the mercy of its angry fans

MLB is now at the mercy of its angry fans

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These things are exclusively anecdotal for now, but it sure didn’t seem like America’s baseball fans were in a mood to celebrate a few minutes before 9 o’clock Monday night, when Rob Manfred used his magic commissioner’s powers and declared a season, believed to be 60 games long.

There is nothing scientific about any of this, but let’s just put it this way: Much of the immediate backlash I saw in the three or so hours between baseball’s players rejecting the owners’ 60-game offer and Manfred implementing it can be summarized by Chris Q, who goes by the Twitter handle @Wood1338Q:

“I hope BOTH sides take a beating for years to come. These jackasses don’t know how good they have it. Nobody cares anymore!”

That is the impulse, sure, because this endgame comes after a month of bickering, in the middle of a pandemic that has cost 120,000 Americans their lives and 43 million their jobs. It has been a mindless and soulless tug of war, and no matter on which side your sympathies lay it was impossible to feel good about the entire lot of them.

Another member of the Twitter cognoscenti, @BauerOutage, who is also known as Cincinnati Reds right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer, suggested the same thing earlier in the day:

“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off the cliff. 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. Incredible.”

This will be the most interesting part of this truncated baseball season, assuming the virus (and an agreed-upon safety protocol) even allows as many as 60 games, assuming they allow ANY of those 60 games. Will that anger have legs? Will it have staying power? Will baseball’s ratings — which were set to rocket through the roof if things had been settled amicably and weeks ago, since baseball would’ve had the American team-sports stage to itself in July — crater?

As always, ball fans find themselves in an impossible and unfair Catch-22. Do they choose the perfectly normal path of least resistance and allow themselves to savor the joys and daily pleasure baseball brings, calling on their old standby, selective amnesia, to invite baseball back into its heart?

Yankees
Angry Yankees fans during the 2019 ALCS against the Astros.Anthony J. Causi

By the times the games arrive it could be tempting. But that would also reinforce what the sport’s darkest angels always believe in their heart of hearts: that you are suckers, that you’ll take any and all beatings from them and happily declare afterward: “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

Or do those same fans choose the nuclear option and declare a work-stoppage of their own, only instead of depriving baseball of its skilled laborers they instead divest themselves of caring, of interest, of a passion that has lived in many of those hearts for decades? This is how a message gets sent. This is how we avoid reading (and writing) these same stories and columns in a year and a half.

Even that will be difficult to gauge, of course, because it’s not like fans can physically boycott: the stands will be empty out of necessity, not choice. If ratings are down? Well, baseball can delude itself that everything is down, that people have other worries, that it’s an outlier of uncertain times.

Thing is: this is 2020. We’ll know. And baseball will know. Fans are no longer voiceless. They are no longer absent editorial representation. If the fury of right now lingers, and spreads, and grows, baseball will sense that. It will feel that. It will hear it.

Now, as we’ve seen the last few weeks, both sides of baseball’s aisle might still choose to ignore all of that in the name of ideology, honoring decades of dislike that festers like a summer blister all too regularly. Maybe baseball can’t help but drive itself over that cliff Bauer so elegantly described.

But that is the biggest thing we will learn about baseball, bigger even than the 60-game dash for glory. In describing the Commissioner’s Trophy a few months back, Manfred dismissed it as a pile of scrap metal. Appropriate. Because without immediate course correction he is driving the rest of the game straight into a putrid and putrefying scrap heap.

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