There are those who are not the lead negotiators, not the spokesman. These are people who take the texts and the emails and the calls and meet your exasperation with their own.
I want to believe they are the true silent majority in the major leagues. Owners, executives, players and agents who have spent weeks telling me in some form or another, “this can’t be the relationship.” They are watching a car crash. In slow motion. Every day. They hope this time the drivers will be smart enough to turn away, avoid the worst outcome. But, no.
Even the most optimistic have become resigned now that damage has been done. Opportunities missed. Spirits crushed. Attempts at moderation silenced.
“At some point both sides will be crying to each other,” one top MLB executive said about the ruin they collectively allowed.
One player said, “I’m no expert on the mechanism that is needed, but I do know as a baseball fan and player that we can’t do this (publicly squabble and hurt the product) anymore if we want baseball to be cool in the future. We are doing a major disservice to the next generation and the game.”
One agent: “I think there are bullies on both sides and if you privately polled the non-bullies this would be a different negotiation.”
My hope lies in these more moderating voices arising. That is for the future, though. For now, maybe we will have a season. Maybe we won’t. Perhaps all the stars will show up if there are games. Probably not. Both sides speak of the actions being in the name of fans. Both sides should stop doing that until, you know, they think of the fans.
That they are fighting still amid a national pandemic and financial ruin and historic social unrest over an amount of money that is a pittance in the overall scope of the machine that is Major League Baseball speaks to leadership with such blind hatred of the other side as to lose sight of all else.
These are people who read one document with two opinions. They can’t agree on even what they have agreed about. They tell you the other side is manipulating, lying and being steered by the most militant factions, never quite understanding that the other side is telling folks like me the same exact thing. They are mirror images of distrust and animus.
The question after all this time that I have for ownership is this: Do too many within your ranks think the only way to define victory is in defeat of your players?
The question after all this time for players: Does your leadership want to make a deal or a point?
I do not believe the worst answers to those questions are universally held. I have talked to plenty of folks in management who think that using a hammer as the weapon of choice in every financial forum with players is wrongheaded.
I have talked to plenty of agents and players who think layering this specific and special negotiation (considering the environment) with all the anger of recent collective bargaining setbacks has been good for unity, but bad for the sport.
And this keeps getting missed by the current administrations: Major League Baseball does not end with the 2020 season. The fight over today’s money has so hurt tomorrow’s picture. For both sides. Potential corporate partners and fans have been turned off and now maybe have checked out.
Think about what has been missed by failing to play regular-season games by no later than Independence Day weekend. We know high-level baseball could be played within a pandemic because it is happening in Taiwan, South Korea and now Japan — albeit in countries that have fought COVID-19 more cohesively and better. Do we know the same will be true about more contact-oriented sports such as basketball, hockey and football? There has been a chance to be the only team sports game in this country. Think of what that would have meant for eyeballs and wallets.
And still sitting out there is opportunity. There is still a national TV deal to do with ESPN. Perhaps deals to do with streaming services. Gambling. Expansion. There is long-term revenue on the horizon. Imagine how greater the revenues would be if the sides were working together. Imagine if the owners stopped manipulating service time — because increased revenue should be great for the players too, not just the owners. Imagine if that led to a spirit of cooperation in which players were happy to participate in ways to quicken pace and bring the on-field experience more directly to fans.
I know from talking to folks on both sides of this divide who have been stiff-armed out of the process that they see a different way. Crave it. Maybe we needed to hit rock bottom with a rock fight with death all around. The firebrands flexed their muscles and lost the war. The 2020 season will carry their soiled fingerprints.
Here is to a silent majority within the game rising up to make sure that never occurs again.