Plaschke: MLB to breathe if 2020 season does not happen


Basketball talks about staging.

“People are stuck at home, and I think they need a diversion, they must be entertained,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN.

Hockey is about excitement.

“We can’t wait for the players to get back on the ice,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Baseball is about greed.

“I have to get my money back, I only play if I get mine, okay? Said Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell.

Baseball starts all over again, the old national pastime behaving like a national joke, but this time it’s serious. This time, baseball may not recover, no matter how many steroids it injects. This time, baseball could lose America for good.

As the country slowly reopens following the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to resume their seasons, the NBA is building up a full press and the NHL is skating hard in the corners.

Baseball, meanwhile, is engaged in a bench clearing fight with itself.

The owners don’t want to come back unless they can give some of their best players a 75% pay cut. Players do not want to return unless the owners keep an original promise pro rata of their current salary for the games played.

In the midst of a national economic nightmare, baseball is billionaires bickering with millionaires. Baseball is a fight in excess with excess. Baseball badly needs a sanitary wipe.

“We have made a proposal to the union that is fully in line with the economic realities of our sport,” the league office said in a statement this week.

Players of the Major League Baseball Assn. replied, “The proposal involves massive wage cuts and the union is extremely disappointed.”

At any other time, in any other setting, it would be the usual stuff of labor disputes in sport. You hear it, you shrug, you understand that it’s all part of the dance.

But in this environment, they look like two people who have lowered their masks and are standing in a grocery aisle loudly fighting over the latest packet of ultra-soft toilet paper.

In this environment, they look like idiots, and it looks like suicide. If baseball is really ready to shine the spotlight on the NBA and NHL in the summer with pride and arrogance, then baseball as a major league in this country is done.

If the owners and players are genuinely prepared to let the 2020 season go for strictly financial reasons – not health and safety – then the already failing national perception of baseball goes bankrupt.

Who do they think they are, football? Do they not realize the extent of their decline in popularity? Do they not read polls, ratings or do you just look in the stands?

In a 2018 Gallup poll, only 9% of adults chose baseball as their favorite sport to watch, ranking third behind football 37% and basketball 11%. Football, at 7%, ranked fourth, but one can guess that the enormous growing popularity of the international game has since boosted football.

Then there is the human poll known as attendance, which has been declining for almost 10 years. Baseball attracted around 68.5 million fans in 2019 after attracting nearly 80 million a dozen years earlier.

With the length of the games, the slow pace and the lack of individual creativity, baseball is increasingly difficult to watch, especially on television. While local cable markets are doing well, the national appetite is slowly dying out, transforming baseball into an essentially regional sport.

Even with a seventh game, last year’s World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros was the third most-watched “Fall Classic” in the past 47 years. A few months earlier, the All-Star baseball game was watched in record numbers, even worse than the NBA All-Star game’s pre-game. Due to the proliferation of viewing options, most television viewing ratings are lower these days, but baseball is on a downward trend.

The problem is not just how many people watch, but who watches. According to MarketWatch, the average age of baseball viewers is 57, with only 7% of viewers under the age of 18.

Baseball has to attract younger fans, which means it has to get smarter and smarter. In this pandemic, it means to be the first. Baseball must be the first sport to play again, the first sport to help heal this country, just as it did after almost every war or crisis in the last century. Baseball must again seem important and relevant, and it will not happen with its owners and players engaging in old, tired maneuvers.

Homeowners who refuse to dig into their deep pockets for a fairer salary arrangement with the players will not cut it.

Yet Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer’s tweet won’t cut it either: “After discussing the latest developments with other players, there is no reason to engage with MLB for further pay cuts . “

Homeowners who try to use the pandemic to change a salary structure that could lead to a player-feared salary cap will not cut it.

But New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman’s tweet won’t cut it either: ‚ÄúThis season doesn’t look promising. “

One of the reasons for the great success of the NBA is the teamwork between the owners and the players. There is a real feeling that they are all in the same boat, and this makes for a stronger brand whose constant entertainment value appeals to all fans.

Homeowners and baseball players are too busy fighting constantly to realize that the most badly damaged is their collective image.

The NBA Twitter account has 30.5 million followers. The Major League Baseball account has 8.6 million followers. A recent study found that more than 90% of Americans had heard of LeBron James, while less than half had heard of Mike Trout.

Earlier this basketball season in a Lakers game in Phoenix, cameras caught James shaking hands with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, while National League MVP Cody Bellinger , seated at only two seats, was completely overlooked.

A few weeks later, during a Lakers game at the Staples Center, fans made a huge ovation to Tom Lasorda when he was shown on the video board, but they became silent when the camera turned to Bellinger and his countryman Dodger Kenley Jansen.

It’s not that people don’t like Bellinger or Jansen. They are two of the friendliest athletes in town. The problem is that average sports fans don’t really recognize them because the average sports fans don’t follow baseball.

A strong and timely return to the field this summer could start to change that, but that will only happen when the owners and players realize they are both wrong.

Seriously, shut up and play ball.


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