On December 2nd, 2021, after failing to successfully negotiate the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Major League Baseball locked out the Player’s Union. Nearly three months later - and with Spring Training fast approaching - the two sides have still not reached an agreement.
So who’s to blame? Generally speaking, I’m not one to take much interest in financial disputes between millionaires and billionaires - the stakes in questions are a little hard to relate to. But this is different. This is baseball.
And the more time passes without a Collective Bargaining Agreement, the more likely it is that the season won’t start on time - if at all. And a spring without baseball is like peanut butter without jelly, or a Moscow Mule without lime - so perverse, so unnatural, it frankly shouldn't be allowed.
The owners and the players are at odds on a number of issues, including minimum salary, the salary arbitration process, and how soon players reach free agency for the first time. I’ll leave it to the experts to report the specifics of each side’s demands and the ongoing negotiation process. In this article, we’ll focus more on the impact this lockout has on the baseball fanbase.
My concerns are a little less complicated: one, I love baseball and therefore want games to watch. Two, I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I assert that a shortened or canceled season could do irreversible damage to the sport’s fandom. And aren’t we the real victims here? Baseball fans? While the owners and the players bicker over dollars and cents, we lose one of our hobbies.
Ironically, the lockout may end up costing both sides money in terms of lost ticket revenue and memorabilia sales - fan loyalty really shouldn’t be taken for granted. As it is, baseball is an old man’s game. The under-35 crowd is a lot more invested in football, basketball, MMA, and even e-sports than they are in what used to be America’s Pastime. And for this, MLB executives have no one to blame but themselves.
I don't think I’ve watched a single NBA game from start to finish in my entire life. Nonetheless, I know the stars, I’m vaguely familiar with the best teams, I know who makes the finals every year, and I can usually name the annual hyped draft prospects.
Why? Osmosis, the collective unconscious, or good old-fashioned marketing - whatever you call it, the NBA does it, and baseball doesn’t. At not quite 30, Mike Trout has already cemented himself as one of the sports all-time greats. In fact, if Trout stays healthy and keeps up his statistical pace, he may well go down as the greatest position player in MLB history.
Wonder where I’m going with this? There’s a problem - the vast majority of Americans have no fucking clue who Mike Trout is. Never heard of him. But you know who they have heard of? Lebron James. Even if - like me - they’ve never watched an NBA game in their lives, they still know King James.
Call me crazy, but I think it’s a little challenging to market your sport and build its fanbase when you can't even market its biggest star.
(To be fair, while Trout’s an immensely talented athlete, he’s also kind of boring. And is the nation truly prepared for a baseball redux of the NHL’s vain efforts to make Connor “My favorite hobby is grocery shopping” McDavid seem even remotely interesting? No, but I digress.)
So, we’ve established that the MLB is already struggling to attract new/younger fans. I can’t be the only person who thinks a lost season will compound that problem even further, perhaps fatally so. That said, I’m actually fairly optimistic that MLB and the Player’s Union will cut a deal sooner rather than later.
For that answer, we need to return to where we started - the money. Both the owners and the players have specific proposals they want to be incorporated into the next CBA. Another thing both sides have in common is they each stand to lose a shitload of money if a significant chunk of the season is canceled.
Call me cynical, but I predict that the one thing that started this whole mess, is also what will resolve it - greed.
- Dan Zamarelli