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EDITORIAL: Major League Baseball appears poised to repeat history, seriously harm game

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Major League Baseball players and owners are in a labor stalemate.
  • The two sides can't agree on how to restart the game during the COVID-19 era.
  • Without an agreement, the World Series could be canceled, just as it was in 1994.
In this Aug. 29, 2019, file photo, the sun sets behind Citi Field during a baseball game between the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs in New York. Major League Baseball players and owners are in labor stalemate.

They couldn’t do it again, could they?

The owners and players in Major League Baseball couldn’t possibly subject their long-suffering — but dwindling — fan base to another labor stoppage and another season without a World Series?

More and more, it looks like they could.

If that happens for the second time in a generation, it could — and should — accelerate the game’s decline in popularity.

The sport once known as America’s pastime may soon be relegated to second-class status in the nation’s sports landscape.

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If the owners and players can’t come to a labor agreement for a shortened season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will deserve exactly what they will get — a torrential downpour of criticism from every corner of the sports world, and beyond.

Billionaire owners vs. millionaire players: Folks are not in the mood right now to hear about billionaire owners arguing with millionaire players.

In case the players and owners haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a national crisis. It’s estimated there are approximately 40 million unemployed Americans.

We need all the distractions we can get right now, and the return of pro baseball, even without fans in the stands, would be a much-welcomed diversion.

At loggerheads: The baseball owners and the players, however, appear at loggerheads when it comes to agreeing on a new financial arrangement given the unusual circumstances forced on the game by the pandemic.  

According to a report by Forbes, MLB grossed a record $10.7 billion in revenue for the 2019 season, an increase from the $10.3 billion the prior year. So, there’s little doubt that the financial pie is more than large enough so that everyone can make lots of money.

AP source: MLB players offer 114-game season, no more $ cuts

A matter of ego: The exact details of the dispute are not pivotal. It comes down to money and how to share it. That’s a hurdle that can be overcome through a simple willingness to compromise, on both sides.

The real problem, it appears, is largely a matter of ego. Neither side wants to give in and be perceived as the “loser” in the labor tug-of-war.

The owners are tired of traditionally getting bettered by the players in labor talks.

The players don’t want to set any kind of precedent that may hinder future salaries.

Neither side looks willing to budge. In that case, both sides will be huge losers.

Will it be 1994, Part II? It bears an eerie resemblance to 1994, when the two sides couldn’t reach a labor agreement and the World Series became the ultimate casualty.

That culminated a series of nasty labor disputes between the players and the owners. Since that time, the two sides had seemingly managed to cooperate on a reasonable basis and further work stoppages have been avoided.

Still, there’s no doubt that the 1994 debacle cost the sport a generation of fans. As a result, baseball has fallen well behind the NFL and now trails the NBA when it comes to overall fan popularity.

Repeating history? Now, a generation later, the owners and players appear poised to make the same critical mistake.

If the 2020 season slips away without any kind of baseball season, the long-term repercussions could be devastating for the game.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there are many things that are much more important than money and sports.

It’s a lesson that the MLB players and owners can ignore at their own peril — and at the peril of a once-beloved national institution.