Major League Baseball (MLB) has a potential problem on its hands. How it responds to this latest adversity will impact how the sport functions both short term and long term.
MLB is currently in talks with the players union about potential return-to-play scenarios following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 ended spring training in March and has put the 2020 season in serious jeopardy. Neither side is willing to budge it seems, making the unthinkable a reality: No baseball in 2020..
If MLB acquiesces to the players' demands and not reduce salaries any further while playing as many games as possible this year, owners will no doubt lose money. Fewer games combined with what will likely be zero fans in attendance for some, if not, most of the games will obviously lead to less revenue. There's no two ways to slice it. All other businesses have struggled this year; why should MLB be immune to financial hardships during this recession. But I believe that would just be a short-term problem.
If we can avoid a second wave of COVID-19 impacting the country next winter, there's no reason to believe the sport can't come back with much excitement and anticipation next year. There's enough quality stars like Mike Trout, Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich to attract fans to the sport. If baseball wants to avoid long-term ramifications, this is the route it needs to take and fast.
But what happens if MLB and the players union can't agree on simple economics that would allow a return-to-play to happen? What happens if there's no baseball at all? Not because of the danger of a virus but because greed prevails and both sides lose? This would have long-term repercussions that rivals the 1994 strike.
Though that work stoppage lasted less than half a season, which came before the Atlanta Braves' world championship in 1995, it had ramifications. The sport suffered until the infamous 1998 steroid-induced home run derby put on by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa garnered national attention, brought fans back to the sport and saved baseball.
These are much different times, but in some ways they're similar. A work stoppage this year could have a devastating effect that the sport is likely not able to overcome. It's already behind the National Football League, college football and National Basketball Association in popularity. How much further would it plummet?
No matter who would be at fault, whether it's the players or it's MLB, the game would suffer. I'm not even sure a “fake” home run chase would be enough to stir the fans' interest again. Lets hope it doesn't get that far. A short-term financial loss is better than a long-term death.
—Clint Thompson is a special contributor to The Union-Recorder.