So after all that, after months of nothing and weeks of bickering, after talk of a season that could be as short as 48 games or as long as 114 games, after proposals to expand the postseason to 16 teams and institute the universal designated hitter this year and next, after all that, what did we get?
A 60-game season unilaterally imposed by the commissioner. The standard postseason format. The universal DH this year only. A grievance that is all but certain to be filed by the players in the coming days. And the promise of an even bigger labor battle next year.
Oh, and no guarantees they’ll even be able to complete this abridged 2020 season as the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the world.
Which leaves you wondering: What was the point of all this?
Not what was the point of trying to play a 2020 season. That was always a worthwhile endeavor, and hopefully it will start and finish as planned with minimal health scares.
But what was the point of this fight between owners and players, which ended in a stalemate?
What was achieved in the end? The owners have to pay the full prorated salaries, just like they agreed to do in March. They don’t get any extra revenue from an expanded postseason. And they get to try to defend themselves in a grievance against a union that will try to argue they didn’t make a good faith effort to schedule as many games as possible.
The players, meanwhile, get only 37 percent of their original annual salaries. They don’t get any extra postseason bonus money. They still have to subject themselves and their families to the very real risk of infection.
And neither side achieved anything that will help make the long-term stability of the sport any better for them. If anything, they destroyed whatever residue of a relationship they still had with each other and all but guaranteed more nastiness over the 2020 and 2021 seasons before they engage in a full-scale labor war next winter when the collective bargaining agreement expires.
But, you say, the players stood up for their rights, didn’t give in to the owners’ unreasonable demands and proved they are united? You are correct. But what did any of that get them in the end? Are the players any better off today than they were at any previous point during the last 3 1/2 months?
And what did the owners get for refusing to budge beyond their 60-game offer? They saved a few bucks instead of compromising with the players at 64 or 66 games and proving they can actually make deals with these guys. Was that worth it?
From the outset, it has felt like these two sides already made up their minds. They were going to fight, and their sole objective was to win the fight. Not to make a deal. Except there was never any chance of winning the fight right now.
The 2020 season wasn’t a fight. It was an opportunity to work together to come up with the least-painful way to hold the most unusual season in modern professional sports history. There were never going to be any winners. The losses would have to be shared.
But it would only be temporary. Someday, the world is going to return to normal and there will be a 162-game baseball season played in front of capacity crowds. It just wasn’t going to happen in 2020, which is why both sides needed to acknowledge this was a unique situation and the wrong time to try to argue over finances.
Sadly, too few participants recognized that. Or, at least, too few were willing to publicly acknowledge it. Thankfully, Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer did, with a string of tweets Monday night that articulated the problem in a way no other player or owner has come close to articulating it.
“If there’s going to be a fight,” Bauer tweeted, “the time for that fight is after the ‘21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. 5 years of potential change. We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. (What) kind of sense does that make?”
He’s absolutely right. There’s a legitimate fight that needs to be waged next year, one that could and should fundamentally change the economic structure of the sport for the better. But that’s not what this fight was about. This was just a disagreement over how many games to schedule and how much money to pay the players for those games.
In end, we’ll get a baseball season. It’ll be the shortest season in more than a century, and that’s only if the virus doesn’t interfere.
But we’ll be getting a baseball season in which all the participants are doing so reluctantly. Some might even choose to opt out altogether, forgoing their salaries and service time accumulation because it’s not worth the health risk.
They’ll play the season not because they want to, but because they have to.
They just better hope enough fans still want to invest their time, their hearts and (eventually) their wallets.