NFL, NBA, and Even NHL
Well here it is. Super Bowl LVI (which is fifty-six if you’re keeping score at home). The Los Angeles Rams vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, a match-up absolutely no one would have predicted but which promises to be an entertaining, high-scoring game that will crown the NFL champion on February 13.
For football fans, this is the start of a long hibernation with brief interruptions for the NFL Draft and free agent season, until training camps come back to life in August. For others, it’s time to turn their attention to their favorite NBA basketball teams or begin plotting their brackets for March Madness or, God help us… hockey.
But What About The MLB Lockout?
You might notice I’ve left out baseball. That’s because, as of this writing, there isn’t any. No news. No trades or free agent signings. And currently no plans to start Spring Training on February 26, which could put the regular season itself in jeopardy. It all remains in limbo because of the lockout Major League Baseball owners imposed on the players last December 2, which conveniently coincided with the end of the five-year collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players’ union.
The Players Of Major League Baseball
The issues, as always, revolve around money. The players feel used and abused by a system that, to their thinking, has become obsolete and anti-competitive. They want to get younger players compensated sooner; create ways for players to reach salary arbitration and free agency earlier; and create a draft lottery that won’t reward teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles for not fielding a roster of competent major league players just so they can get the highest draft picks in the amateur draft.
MLB Team Owners
And what do the owners want? Well, for the most part they’d like things to stay exactly the same. They are willing to compromise on a few things. They’ll grant the use of a universal designated hitter in both leagues in exchange for expanding the playoffs from twelve to fourteen teams. Once again… more money. They’ll agree to some form of a draft lottery but include fewer teams than the players have asked for. They’ll also raise the minimum salary from the current $570,000, but only marginally.
Who Will Cave First?
For the players this isn’t nearly enough. So we’re at a stalemate. After the lockout was announced, there were forty-two days of radio silence before the two sides even started talking again. Progress has been slow, though there is still time to bridge the gap and get the season started on time. The question is: who blinks first?
The irony in all this is the game has never been healthier. With all the complaining about how baseball is “slow” and “boring,” attendance records have been set and re-set every year. The value of individual franchises has risen exponentially, as has the ancillary income from merchandise, stadium naming right and, coming soon… gambling. And while the players complain their salaries have stagnated, the average wage of a major league player is around $4 million a year.
What Do The Fans Like Us Want?
And therein lies the rub: to the general public, this current kerfuffle between the players and the owners amounts to little more than Billionaires vs. Millionaires trading insults and accusations in rarified air. As fans, we just want them to resolve their issues and play ball. So it’s really, REALLY hard to feel sorry for anybody… except, perhaps, ourselves.
Because it’s the fans who are being shut out here–again! Those of us who regard baseball as a year-long obsession miss the post-World Series “Hot Stove” ritual of trade rumors, free agent signings and the hope that this year is finally our year.
Every new Spring Training brings possibilities, even to a team like the Pirates who’s entire major league payroll wouldn’t be enough to buy one season of Max Scherzer. We look forward to watching the new minor league hotshots who will come through and re-invigorate the franchise. We anticipate opening day… the beginning of the long season where every team starts out even.
Possible Lasting Effects From The Lockout
There’s a certain rhythm to a baseball season—more solidly entrenched, I think, than any other sport. And this lockout has disrupted that rhythm and caused a lot of uncertainty in a game that has already experienced more than its’ share of self-inflicted catastrophe. No one, I think, wants to revisit the 1994-95 major league season where the World Series was cancelled and the next season’s start delayed because of a long, protracted strike by the players.
People discovered they could live without baseball. And the game itself floundered for several years afterward until the steroid-fueled home run heroics of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa brought it back to the public’s attention again.
Nobody wants Armageddon. Which is why I’m counting on, after much saber rattling on both sides, baseball’s players and owners to somehow figure this out. That Spring Training may be late or curtailed, but that baseball games will happen and there’ll be 162 of them. Because isn’t that the story of every baseball spring?