You can’t teach the kind of cluelessness that owners and players are exhibiting during the pandemic, which is the reason we’re all watching so wide-eyed.
It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what was bothering me about the lack of sports in this country:
It’s that there isn’t a lack. One sport actually is playing games.
That would be baseball, which, due to a complete absence of self-awareness, is embroiled in an ugly spat over money during a pandemic. You can’t teach that kind of cluelessness, which I suppose is the reason we’re all watching so wide-eyed. Who says there are no spectators in the stands these days?
The game that Major League Baseball and the players’ union are playing is one the two sides have been playing forever. The owners don’t want the players to have more money, and the players want the owners to have less money. That an inconvenient coronavirus is involved this time around is a mere plot twist. The same issue is at heart. “Survivor’’ might take place in a different exotic location each season, but it’s still the same loincloths.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the owners and players are serving a very important purpose. They’re here to remind us that, however bad we might be feeling about ourselves, however embarrassed about the little we’re doing to make a difference in these difficult times, we could be worse people. We could be them.
Of all the times to have a nasty spat about who makes what, this would seem to be the worst. The players initially tried to frame the impasse as a discussion about the coronavirus and safety concerns, but that has fallen by the wayside. The owners’ focus never wavered. Money, they said. Lots of it. As much of it as possible.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a self-awareness issue. If the two sides were any less self-aware, they’d be newborns. These people are incapable of shame. And I thank them for it. For those of us with nothing to do, it’s a win.
Let’s recap the action, baseball fans.
In March, the two sides agreed to a plan that involved prorated salaries for the players, based on how many games a reduced season would include. Everything seemed so nice. Baseball would eventually return to entertain us during dark times.
But that agreement carried the assumption that there would be paying customers in the stands, which would have given owners a significant revenue stream. But as the days wore on and the importance of social distancing became more apparent, the likelihood of fans inside ballpark began to wane.
With that moneymaking element taken out of the equation, owners earlier this month proposed a 50-50 revenue split to the players, who, upon receipt of the proposal, threw up. They saw it as a veiled attempt to introduce a salary cap to baseball, and they were having none of it.
Then Rays pitcher Blake Snell happened along.
“I gotta get my money,’’ he said. “I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK?’’
That was the first public shot across the bow of the owners’ yacht, and Snell rightly got ripped for sounding like another out-of-touch millionaire whining about his difficult life.
Thanks to Snell, the owners were ahead by 10 runs in the public-perception game, but they, being out-of-touch billionaires, responded recently with a new proposal that allowed the players to rally, image-wise. MLB offered a sliding scale in pay reduction. Players with the biggest salaries would take the biggest cut. Players making the least would see their salaries cut the least. The plan means that the Angels’ Mike Trout, whose contract called for him to make $36 million this season, would make about $8 million instead.
If the response of the union could be reduced to two words, two polite words, it would be, “Um, no.’’
“Interesting strategy of making the best most marketable players potentially look like the bad guys,” Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted.
The owners look like what they are, a bunch of guys fighting a battle in anticipation of a war over the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current one runs out Dec. 1, 2021.
It would be so like baseball to sit out the 2020 season not because of COVID-19 but because of money. And to do so at a time when the country really needed a diversion.
Agent Scott Boras is involved in all of this, and that means strident talk, pie charts, curtains being pulled back and blood spatter. The owners can’t stand him. Not every player appreciates him the way he appreciates himself.
“Hearing a LOT of rumors about a certain player agent meddling in MLBPA affairs,’’ Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted. “If true — and at this point, these are only rumors — I have one thing to say… Scott Boras, rep your clients however you want to, but keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.”
No one is actually touching each other, but this sure looks like a contact sport.
It’s not baseball, per se, but it’s all we have. Can I interest anyone in some peanuts and Cracker Jack?