We have not seen one of these in a while. A quarter of a century has elapsed since we were last here. So there has been hesitancy to call what is going on with Major League Baseball what it is, but this is a labor-related work stoppage.
It does not fit comfortably into one of the traditional buckets — a lockout or a strike. Nevertheless, owners and players are not playing because of work rules, specifically how much to pay players. A collective bargaining agreement has not technically expired.
But what is being negotiated now — or not negotiated considering the lack of conversation between the sides — is essentially a partial season of rules for the game (you know, a bargained agreement). Thus, we don’t need Marvin Miller or Bowie Kuhn, Don Fehr or Bud Selig to give this a name. This is a work stoppage.
The governors of Arizona and Florida announced major league teams could return a month ago. No one from a major health organization or the federal government has publicly said don’t return. At minimum, MLB players could have been at a renewed spring training for weeks, perhaps playing regular-season games already toward a season of credibility with 100-plus games.
They are not throwing sliders and turning double plays because management and the union cannot agree on money. There have been eight work stoppages in MLB history — four during a season. At the crux they are always about the distribution of cash. Period. So this is work stoppage No. 9.
These clashes have always been nasty — full of name calling and insistence from both sides that the other is lying and not to be trusted. There have always been fans who have reacted to the fight over millions (perhaps billions) of dollars and the loss of games as a trigger to say they were done with the sport. Ultimately, the owners and players waded through the hostilities and reached agreement. And most of the fans came back. Sometimes more fans than ever. Bringing more money than ever.
I do wonder about this time, though.
Because while this is playing out like a standard labor clash, these are certainly not normal times.
Had the sides risen to faith in each other and the sport to reach an agreement weeks (months?) ago, is it overstating it to say they would have received short- and long-term financial benefits to make their squabble over 2020 pay silly? After all, no other team sports are playing yet.
If MLB was, would there be not only new corporate sponsors and additional TV money, but gigantic faith (and dollars) invested in both sides for figuring out how to come together during a pandemic? Would there be not only usual fans, but new ones?
Owners should have had faith in the product they bought into and offered players not only a pathway to 100 percent of their pay if the season were played to championship conclusion, but even more than 100 percent if new monies flowed as a respectful tribute for players taking the risk to be in clubhouses and hotels and planes.
Players should have met that with a willingness to accept less than 100 percent if the virus made it too dangerous to complete the postseason. The mutually beneficial compromise would have created goodwill with companies and fans, setting up MLB and its players to capitalize no matter the outcome of this season.
No company or fan would have held it against the sport if games or even the season ultimately had to be canceled due to the uncontrollable: the virus. The owners/players would have been hailed for cooperating and trying against difficult odds. There was a pathway here to a strong today and brighter tomorrow for MLB.
Instead, the owners did not trust that their sport would create unanticipated revenues and/or they simply decided the players had to subsidize their potential losses. The players could not put away historic hostilities to see that reaching across the aisle here to take some financial risk in exchange for a peace that would help all was the best tactic.
This felt very modern politics, very polarized, very anything that helps my enemy is automatically a non-starter. When the reality was helping each other would be helping yourself in this instance.
So there is a labor-related work stoppage that promises now a more familiar one when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season. Why would a fan (especially a new fan) put their heart into this? The sport has always come back from labor disruption before. But there has never been a work stoppage during a pandemic that was causing widespread death and financial ruin.
The anger and hatred between players and owners is recognized by both sides. Do they recognize just how angry and hate-filled the fans are?
If the sides had risen to the moment, there would be games today — exhibition or regular season. Imagine what that would mean for everyone’s bottom line. Today. Tomorrow. Imagine how the country would feel about its national pastime. There are no games, though. Just a work stoppage.