The Off-Season: Starting Down The Slippery Slope
By Tim Kabel
March 3, 2022
When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die. – Jean-Paul Sartre
The Major League Baseball lockout began on December 1st. Everyone hoped it would end before Christmas. It did not. It is now entering its fourth month. Major League Baseball set a deadline of February 28th to have a CBA in place. Otherwise, games would begin to be canceled. Despite some last-minute optimism, the deadline came and went without a CBA in place. Consequently, games are being canceled. On Tuesday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the first two series of the season have been canceled. And so, it begins.
There was a flurry of negotiations before the deadline on February 28th. Since then, there has been no indication of when the two sides will meet again. Think about this: Soon, it will be the third and fourth series of the season that will be canceled. How many series will be lost? How many games will be lost? How far will this thing go? I have read and heard in several places that the owners really don’t care about games in April. Games in April do not tend to draw large crowds other than for opening day. The weather is usually still very cold in most places and frequently teams combat that by having day games. Since most fans work or attend school during the day, that cuts down the size of the crowds. The owners would rather sacrifice the April games and have everything in place for what they hope will be an increased schedule of playoff games.
I suppose that’s a pragmatic philosophy but to the fans who love baseball, any lost game is troublesome. Certainly, if this mess is resolved and games begin at the end of April or even at the beginning of May, most fans won’t be irate or traumatized. Unfortunately, wars of attrition can frequently drag out much longer than anticipated. When two opposing sides become entrenched, either literally or figuratively, movement toward peace and reconciliation becomes more difficult. Now that the deadline has passed, and games are being canceled, oddly the sense of urgency to negotiate a deal seems to have evaporated. It’s as if the two sides are saying, “well, since we’re already canceling games, we might as well dig in and wait this thing out.”
The true losers here, whatever happens, are the fans. We are at the point now at which spring training games would be underway. We would be talking excitedly about which minor leaguers were really showing off their talents. We would be debating who would make the pitching staff. Teams would have their rosters set or at least be close to it. That is not the case now. Instead, fans have to read about labor negotiations and watch Rob Manfred make proclamations about the state of the negotiations and the season. Winston Churchill once described The Soviet Union as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Commissioner Manfred seems to personify smugness wrapped in pomposity. He does not seem overly troubled by the ongoing stalemate or the fact that games are actually being canceled. Manfred seemingly exacerbated an already contentious situation by declaring that canceled games will not be rescheduled, and players will not receive salary or major league service time for any games missed. Fasten your seat belts, we could be in for a long and bumpy ride.
In mid-1932, a group of 43,000 demonstrators, including 17,000 veterans of World War I, along with their families and affiliated groups, gathered in Washington DC to demand early cash redemption of their service bonus certificates. They were known as the “Bonus Army”. This was during the Great Depression. Most of the bonus marchers had been out of work since the beginning of the Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded the veterans bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each certificate bore a face value equal to the soldier’s promised payment with compound interest. Because these men had not worked for quite some time, their principal demand was the immediate cash payment of their certificates. President Hoover decided the best way to handle the situation was to order The US Army to clear the marchers’ campsite. Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur commanded a contingent of infantry and cavalry, supported by six tanks. The bonus army marchers with their wives and children were driven out and their shelters and belongings were burned. This was an ugly moment in American History. The bonus marchers had a legitimate argument but then again, the entire country was suffering in the Depression. Hoover’s heavy-handed way of resolving the situation helped cement his defeat in the 1932 election.
The point of that little stroll down the thoroughfares of history is to remind us that we can learn lessons from the past. The fact that the Bonus March occurred against the backdrop of the Great Depression made things much worse. Similarly, a labor dispute in Major League Baseball that results in the loss of games as the country is hopefully emerging from a two-year long pandemic, is not going to be well received. Close to a million people have died from Covid in the past two years. Businesses were lost, people were unemployed, and economic devastation swept the land. Many people in this country love sports and see them as a way to take their minds off of their troubles. I wouldn’t anticipate that most Americans are going to be especially forgiving of a lengthy and protracted labor negotiation that results in the loss of one or two months of the Major League Baseball season. Previous work stoppages have adversely impacted the popularity of the game, particularly the 1994 debacle. Major League Baseball can ill afford a repeat of that performance, particularly as the nation is finally recovering from the throes of a two-year struggle with an insidious disease.
It behooves both the players and the owners to get this thing done and a CBA in place as quickly as possible. The longer it takes to end the lockout, the worse things will be for both sides. It is in everyone’s best interests to get this lockout over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The only two words the majority of Americans want to hear at the conclusion of this whole mess are “Play Ball.”