Being a Mets fan, I’m used to being disappointed by baseball. In fact, all I’ve ever gotten from baseball is disappointment. But the disappointment I felt on Tuesday when Rob Manfred took the podium and declared the first six games of the season to be cancelled was different than the baseball-related disappointment I’m used to.
I suppose you could say I’m disappointed in baseball this time. More specifically, I am disappointed in Major League Baseball, and even more specifically, the people who are in charge of the league; the 30 oafish and exorbitantly wealthy owners who leech off this product for its profits while hiding behind their chosen figurehead, Manfred, who giggles and laughs and dizzily stumbles through press conferences where he usually embarrasses himself and says something provably false at best, or completely disingenuous—think “piece of metal”—at worst.
The anger I felt on Tuesday was not the same as what I feel when the Mets are in the middle of a 4-22 stretch in August and nose-diving out of the playoff race. It was deeper, more personal. More insulting. The league has told me, in no uncertain terms, that it does not care for itself the way I and millions of others do. They told me that I’ve spent years of my life consuming a product run by people who not only don’t care for their own product, but would like to ensure that I can consume as little of it product as possible.
My frustration is not the same as when Edwin Díaz blows save on a grand slam that had an xBA of .090. This time it’s more broadened, more general, because my ability to enjoy Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer on the same team has been put on indefinite pause by owners of other teams who would rather jump in a pit of fire than roster either Scherzer or deGrom, let alone both, if it meant they actually had to pay them salaries commiserate to their value.
My confusion is not the same as when a Mets manager sends the 5th outfielder up there in the biggest at bat of the season to “get him going.” This seems, somehow, even more self-defeating than that. The league appears to be willing to take a widespread and far-reaching PR bath and risk losing millions of fans over an amount of money that comes out to roughly $5 million per team, and I am so baffled by all of it.
The worst part is that this isn’t nearly the first time MLB has done this to its fans in recent years. The league has been stepping on its own dick for a while now, with various scandals on and off the field over the past decade which have worked turn off its consumer base, and a recent labor strife just two years ago that likely resulted in the 2020 pandemic season being at least 20 games shorter than it could’ve been.
But this one stings even more, not just because it will likely result in a shortened baseball season for the second time in three years, but because this just didn’t have to happen at all. It only happened because the league’s gameplan from the start of the lockout was to stall, and let it drag on as long as possible to pressure the players into a deal. The players didn’t budge, and now we’re here.
It only happened because Rob Manfred is a weak and cowardly leader, backed by owners who are equally foolhardy, reckless, and spineless, and they put their profit-poisoned brains together and came up with a playbook that was a lockout equivalent of Joe Judge calling a QB sneak on 2nd down and long. It was weak, deeply unserious, and insulting.
It is the epitome of cowardice to implement a lockout, tell the public that it was “defensive” and “intended to jumpstart negotiations,” and then wait 42 days to make a counter proposal. It is a deeply bad faith tactic to impose a fake, meaningless deadline, wait until there are seven days before said deadline to actually sit down at a table and negotiate regularly, and then wait until about six hours before the deadline to actually start making real concessions. It is an act of sheer insecurity to use league-friendly reporters to leak optimism that a deal is nearing to put pressure on the other side while trying to sneak in items that you hope they don’t notice. It is a completely underhanded power play to come up with an arbitrary deadline to begin cancelling games—despite the fact that the amount of games played in a season is a collectively bargained matter itself, and the commissioner cannot unilaterally decide to play fewer games without MLBPA sign-off.
This is not to say the union didn’t similarly use the media to their advantage or float some wishful proposals of their own later in the process than they should have, but they at least displayed a willingness to make a deal and not cancel games. The union set no deadlines, never waited as long as 42 days to make a counterproposal, and never described an offer their “last and best.”
Make no mistake, the reason we will not get baseball on March 31 is because the league did not view baseball on that day as a necessity. When it came time to get serious, Manfred and the owners refused to get serious, instead gratuitously offering to include player meal money in the luxury tax calculations instead. They were okay with there not being a deal done by 5 PM on Tuesday. Their “last and best” offer was not one they thought would be accepted; no offer in which the CBT threshold does not increase for the first 3 years of the deal was ever going to be accepted.
We saw just how seriously Manfred takes all of this on Tuesday evening, when the first image of him at the press conference where he declared a work stoppage would cancel baseball games for the first time in nearly 30 years was a big smile on his face. I would like to think that smile was merely emblematic of a person who does not understand the gravity of what he was about to do, but in actuality, it was just a person who did not care what he was about to do.
Manfred and the owners don’t care about their own product, which is, of course, how we got here in the first place. But anyone who does care about the actual game would not wait until the last possible hours of negotiation to begin seriously discussing improvements to the on-field product, or attempt to decrease the amount of time that players can adjust to unilateral rule changes. They only care about their locked-in profits that they can extract from the game, and those don’t start getting threatened until we get to around 20-25 games lost. So canceling Opening Day and the first 6 games of the year? Not a big issue, despite whatever lines Manfred’s PR people put into his speech.
So now we are just left to hope that enough of this baseball season can be saved. There does not seem to be much hope for a full 162 games, but there is reason left to believe that we can get at least 140 games in. But the truth is, we don’t know, and this all just really sucks.