The picture atop this post is from Opening Day 2020, and it sucks.
There are no fans in the front row in that picture, nor any fans behind them spilling beer on their shoes. It’s filed in history as a game played in a cavernous, empty silo, emblematic of a 2020 season that featured hardly anything akin to the baseball experience that we’ve grown up loving.
If the 2021 season is to adhere to a more traditional schedule, that means pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona in less than two months. And given that we’re still in the throes of the pandemic with vaccinations just now beginning to get rolled out, perhaps that’s not the idea thing in the world.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale shed light on the dilemma facing MLB and the MLBPA in that regard, noting that there’s a sentiment among owners to bump the season back a bit, even if it means again not playing the usual 162 game schedule.
It has ample merit, of course. If bumping things back a month means that players and fans have a better chance of getting vaccinated, that’s a huge bonus. That could mean fans in stands, parking passes purchased, hot dogs consumed, and revenue returning through the gates at MLB stadiums. In theory, that would mean owners could no longer keep crying poor, and that the concept of paying good players to win baseball games would again be a thing.
The problem, of course, is that the MLBPA would have to again sign-off on salary proration, as playing a 130 or 140 games schedule instead of the previously agreed upon 162 means that players simply are not playing as often as originally scheduled. That’s a major concession, one that could continue to suppress the overall salary structure into the future, and not something the union is typically fond of doing.
In essence, the MLBPA would be forced to choose their fight. Do they take a hard-line stance for full 162 game pay for those players who already have guaranteed contracts? Or, do they hedge towards a more revenue-friendly model that may increase the total number of players who actually get signed at all?
It’s a fascinating dilemma, really. The fan in me selfishly wants to have more opportunities to not only get back in the stadium and see games in person, but to get a bit more enjoyment out of watching the games on TV where I’m not there. Baseball just slaps harder when there are fans in the seats, and if lopping off 15% of the regular season schedule gives that a greater chance of safely happening, I think I’m on board with the idea.
Then again, that might just be the permanent residue 2020 has left on my soul talking. After all, it would be incredibly on-brand for the Cincinnati Reds to spend the start of their offseason dumping quality big league players simply to save cash in expectation of another potentially low-revenue season only for MLB to hit pause and formulate a plan where revenues could actually flow in 2021.
One way or another, these two sides are going to have some negotiating to do in the coming weeks and months, hopefully with rosier attitudes about it than when given the similar task of restarting the 2020 campaign. With vaccinations now on the table, the hope is that there will again be an optimism on both sides of the table over the near-term future of this multi-billion dollar machine, which didn’t appear to be prevalent in the doom and gloom talks last spring and summer. And if we have to wait just a tad bit longer to get baseball back in a form closer to its purest, well, we’ve had a damn lot of practice learning how to be patient of late.