BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 06/15/2020

Thiel: MLB reaches new frontier of ineptitude

Pandemics of coronavirus and racism, a failing federal government, raging unemployment leading to a depression, and MLB can’t figure out how to play nice. D’oh!

In case you forgot what Big Pink was supposed to look like for Opening Day. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

We sentimentalize and romanticize baseball like no other American team sport.  Maybe that’s why we keep giving it the freedom to break the collective sporting heart. We can’t seem to quit on it.

But now might be the easiest time yet to slam the door off its hinges.

The latest moment of relationship dysfunction came Saturday, when what seems to be the final attempt at reconciliation failed. To start a truncated season, the owners made a half-hearted compensation offer they knew was weak. The players union indeed scorned it, sneered and essentially said, “Do your worst!”

So, unless owners swoon this week, the worst will be a forced season of 50 or so games that neither side wants, played to empty houses amid pandemics of coronavirus and racism, against a backdrop of massive unemployment and a failing federal government during a recession heading toward depression.

Take me out to the ball game. Like hell.

MLB would need a 60-story elevator to get up to forlorn.

MLB’s latest proposal called for a 72-game season starting July 17 and guaranteed the players just 70 percent of their pro-rated salaries that were agreed to by the parties March 26. The union also agreed to allow MLB, in the event of an impasse in future negotiations, to declare unilaterally a 50-game season.

That is what the union said Saturday it was willing to accept.

“It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

Never has there been a thud duller than those 12 words to start a baseball season.

Even Buster Olney of ESPN.com, one of the legion of romanticists in baseball journalism, wrote that the industry is becoming “a punchline for sports dysfunction with antecedents like “Knicks,” “Tonya Harding” and “butt fumble.”

Since the owners refused the union request to disclose their financial books in order to justify the pay cut, the owners get to wear the villain’s cape in this episode.

It is the players who are being asked to risk their health to play in a cumbersome, unprecdented safety net while the virus shows resilience against the weakening American resolve to follow the CDC recommendations.

And it’s not just the virus. The hasty “spring” training and compacted regular season will inevitably produce more injuries because of lessened conditioning.

If the failed negotiations weren’t enough despair, two unresolved issues stink like the fetid air above the sulphur mud pots in Yellowstone.

The Houston Astros still have to make the rounds of ballparks to be pilloried after a electronic hijacking of signals over a couple of years that should have invalidated their 2017 World Series, but did not (kinda forgot that scandal, yes?). Nor did a single player draw punishment.

Commissioner Rod Manfred’s relative helplessness over the affair suggests strongly that parts of the industry are ungovernable. Here’s hoping Manfred can figure out who’s pilfering the sunflower seeds.

Then there’s the imminent destruction of a big chunk of minor league baseball. Before the virus, MLB was about to execute 40 of the 162 minor league teams that populate small to mid-size towns across America. It was billed as a cost-saving move, but I thought that’s what they’ve been doing by paying most minor league players $400 a week for years.

The situation was so pathetic, especially for foreign-born players stuck in the U.S. because of travel restrictions, that several major leaguers picked up some salaries when clubs like the Nationals and A’s stiffed the kids.

The litany of ugliness is all current stuff, and doesn’t take into account the history of work stoppages over labor issues that took games out of seasons in 1972, 1981, 1985, 1990 and 1994-95. Nor is there any calculation of future damages to revenues from the failure to bargain in good faith.

We all understand that the problems of baseball are trifling compared with the cornucopia of crap being delivered to many. But how does baseball allow itself to be so oblivious?

After decades of mistakes, missteps and mistrust, baseball appears be at the same place when Homer Simpson had his first and only moment of true self-awareness:

“Lord help me, I’m just not that bright.”


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YourThoughts

  • DB

    What you say is spot on, Art. How you say it is even better, as usual.

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Lodowick

    I’ll politely add that I think there is room under the bus for the hard-lining Player’s Rep. People are getting hungry in these un-united states. A hundred bucks is really helpful for some. It’s hard to watch ballplayers walk away from millions.

    • art thiel

      Tony Clark is playing a longer game regarding future CBA talks. But your observation is right; this looks like hell to fans, and players share some responsibility.

      • Chris Alexander

        Agreed on both points. The MLBPA at least can SAY they’re taking the high ground by sticking to the previous agreement re: salaries, but they should at least CONSIDER some sort of “reasonable compromise” (not that I personally think any of the offers thus far would meet the standard of “reasonable”).

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Billionaires bickering with millionaires, ain’t that the American dream? “IF” the season does miraculously appear in some fashion it’s going to be a phony attempt to placate both parties. The owners are probably going force the players to play come hell or high water. Without fans in the stands and players being forced to play, how much enthusiasm will there be amongst the players? I would venture to say little to none. COVID is back on the rise and trying to get everything to be medically pristine is going to be impossible this year. Call it a year and get back at it next season.

    • art thiel

      Without an organized federal response that mandates health rules and organizes distribution of supplies, no quality management of the spread is possible.

  • James

    So the Seattle Mariners won’t field a baseball team this season.

    Never mind, that was going to be the case anyway before this COVID19 started.

    • art thiel

      I get the joke, but the training-wheels season has/had a big role in any future success.

  • Husky73

    Let em eat filet mignon.

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      Ah the remembrance of Marie-Antoinette, Let them eat cake.

      • art thiel

        Marie didn’t know anything about pandemics.

        • Alan Harrison

          Plus, as we now know, she never said that.

          • James

            Twas Marie Callender.

          • Husky73

            It was Marie Osmond.

  • jafabian

    With all the problems going on with CORONA19, racial unrest, police brutality, nationwide unemployment, an economic depression, SSN fraud and murder hornets to see two parties who function in a non-essential sports entertainment business bickering about money is such a sad commentary I barely know what to say. Except shame on them. Other sports take note on what not to do.

    • art thiel

      True. The owners are seeking leverage for the 2021 CBA negotiations, but the virus response should prevail over all priorities.

  • Williec

    I’m thinking, nobody should start a season under these conditions—NFL, NCAA, MLS, NHL, PGA, NASCAR—nobody, until we have some sense of real safety going into the arena to cheer full throated. Maybe baseball, the thinking person’s game, could get that right and say we don’t begin until that time comes.

    • art thiel

      A lot of doctors would agree with you. Science is so early in its understanding that fighting this highly contagious bug requires discipline. In a culture driven by instant gratification, I’m a little surprised we’ve done as well as we have.

    • LarryLurex70

      I agree. With the exception of the CFL, all these leagues would be leaving far too much money on the table to chuck the remainder of their respective seasons in the bin. I don’t think any of them have the guts to do it anyway. But, I’d certainly have more respect for them if they did. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere.

  • John

    Well we are talking about owners, most of whom replaced Fay Vincent with Bud Selig, on one hand, and players, who make more than teachers should, fighting over who gets the biggest slice of money pie. They, the owners, survived the 1994 World Series not being played and all have made enough money that the pandemic isn’t going to affect them financially, A lost season isn’t going to have that big of an effect on them either,
    As for the players, most are making money that they can survive without playing for a season too. The minor league players are the ones really being hurt financially. It’s ok if they take the year to heal up, rest up, and come back to play next season.
    Then again, as I heard on the radio today, this shortened season could be the best chance for the Mariners to win a World Series. That might be worth happening in my lifetime.

    • art thiel

      Keep in mind that the vast majority of this union’s membership is made up of one- or two-year players. We tend to think of them as if they are all paid close to Mike Trout, but a lot of them will never make this kind of money in the rest of their lives.

  • Guy K. Browne

    We the fans share a good amount of blame for all that is wrong with pro sports (NCAA included). We keep showing up, we keep paying the ticket prices, we keep watching on TV. We forgive and forget far too quickly and easily after getting kicked to the curb.
    Until we as sports fans alter our behavior in a meaningful way, don’t expect the sporting world to have an epiphany, they know we’ll always come back, we always have.

    • art thiel

      Spot on, Guy. I’ve said this for years. Owners in all sports have monopoly operations in all but the giant markets, and as long as we consumers remain insatiable, reform and progress are hard.

      But not impossible.

    • Kirkland

      Slight interlude: Two of the Korean teams’ nicknames, the Dinos and Wyverns (a two-legged dragon), are catchy enough for the Seattle NHL team to consider.

      • Guy K. Browne

        Ha! Don’t know how NHL got thrown into this convo, but NO! Dinos/Wyverns? C’mon man.
        It’s Totems, the correct answer is Totems. Draw on and include the rich heritage of the people that inhabited this land long before Europeans showed up and made a mess of the place. A totem is not a caricature or denigration of indigenous peoples, totems tell a story. Let the stories be told and the history lesson be included. Give thanks to the Quileute/Chimakum/Makah people. Lastly, provide a lineage of us old hockey fans from the past to the future. The Seattle Totems was the first team I loved as a kid. I had constant bruises from my shins to my knees from playing hockey in the basement with wooden pucks that my dad made with a piece of plywood and a holesaw. Damn those pucks had sharp edges. Oh yeah…. Totems, Seattle Totems.

        • Husky73

          I agree, but I think highly unlikely. Any type of Native American reference is probably a hands off situation for owners. We will now see more pressure being put on Dan Snyder to change the Redskins name, but I doubt if he will budge.

          • LarryLurex70

            I fail to see how Totems could be offensive. I fail to see how Redskins isn’t.

          • Husky73

            In June of 2020, failing to see how “Totems” is offensive may make sense to you and me, but it may clank with those who are not you and me. I agree with you about “Redskins,” however, I also “fail to see” how ANYONE could vote to re-elect Trump in November…but 65+ million Americans will do so.

          • James
          • Husky73

            MAGA = Morons Are Governing America

          • Quackhead

            If I may add:
            MAGA
            My Attorney(s) Got Arrested
            Moscow Agent Governing America
            Make America Gullible Again
            McDonald’s And Golf Again

          • Husky73

            Manafort Actually Gone Away
            RAGA = Rake America Great Again
            KAG = Keep America Grotesque

        • Kirkland

          Hey, Totems would be my first choice, with Pilots after. However, given the racial tensions and sensitivities today, I’m not sure it would fly, no matter how benign. Some people are even calling for the Blackhawks to change their name and logo.

        • Guy K. Browne

          I can’t begin to know what the current ownership group is thinking but Totems, if done correctly with buy in from the local indigenous peoples could be inclusive and educational as opposed to the Moe Howard double eye-poke that is the Washington Redskins.

        • Kirkland

          (Meant to reply to Alan Harrison’s comment, as he mentioned the KBO, but clicked on the wrong item. Oops.)

  • Alan Harrison

    Baseball is actually on the air, coming live from Korea, which makes this cavalcade of tone-deafness look even worse. The saddest parts are: unless you’re over 45, you likely put the MLB behind not only the NFL, but the NBA, MLS, and maybe even the NHL. And in Seattle, it’s currently a notch behind the WNBA as well, with the NWSL catching up with stars like Megan Rapinoe.

    I have to say that there seems to be a parallel with the US in general here, albeit with more zeroes. 0.001%-ers trying to beat down 1%-ers. Strife. No negotiation. An outside (health) crisis happens. Strife. No negotiation. Gap gets wider. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    • art thiel

      In comparing with other sports in a pandemic, MLB has a huge difference: Its dailyness. Much harder to stay atop the the testing. I also think a lot of wealthier vets really don’t want to return for a short season of risk.

      The parties have been negotiating. But the owners want to socialize their losses with the players. They never offer to socialize their highly profitable seasons.

      • Alan Harrison

        Yes, as I wrote. Sounds eerily similar to economic inequality issues.

  • coug73

    MAD. It appears MLB baseball is in a mutual assured destruction spiral. Not unlike humanity.

    • art thiel

      Each draws from the same gene pool.

      • Kristafarian

        The cess?

  • Kirkland

    I grew up watching NBC’s “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoons, and in the late ’80s – early ’90s I was following MLB closely enough to know the makeups of most teams along with the Mariners (the Astros’ batting was Glen Davis and little else, the were Cardinals singles-hitting jackrabbits, the Red Sox station-to-station, etc.). Then the ’94 strike turned me off of the rest of the league other than the M’s miracle season. I solely followed the Mariners and tuned out the rest of MLB until May 2016, when the Mariners’ ownership helped torpedo the SoDo arena.

    That’s when I bitterly turned away from the team and the majors. I’ve only watched one game on TV since — only because teenaged family friends from out of town wanted to watch and I felt obliged to join them — and my interaction has been limited to the Griffey and Edgar HOF ceremonies and maybe listening to playoff games when running errands on weekends (Dan Shulman and Boog Schiambi are great PXP callers for ESPN radio). I still enjoy baseball, but now it’s limited to the minor leagues, the College World Series, and different things like the Korean league now on ESPN.

  • LarryLurex70

    I’ve been a Dodger fan since 1981. That’s the only team I watch on TV, and those are the only games I go to when I get the chance. I haven’t been a fan of the game of baseball nor interested enough in it to watch/attend a non-Dodgers game since probably 1999. That’s the last time I attended a Mariner home game. Although, I did catch a World Series game on TV in my hotel room whilst traveling in 2009. I’m the kind of sport fan that typically won’t watch a game if my preferred squad isn’t involved. That includes games played for the championship. But, MLB is the only league where I couldn’t possibly give less of a fuck whether the games are televised or not. And, with the exception of missing the Dodgers, I wouldn’t miss the league at all if it went dark for the next year-and-a-half. This really doesn’t even have that much to do with the current impasse, but, is more the resentment towards the sport on the whole that has been building for probably a decade.

    If they’re risking losing less-than-casual fans like me, imagine the potential exodus of actual hardcore types who genuinely love the game.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Mr. Larry
      Thanks for the comment, and I am probably on your precise side here.
      And a rare fond memory from your fandom genesis: FERNANDOMANIA!!!!

  • John Hammargren

    The MLB labor war is a sad commentary on all of us in 2020. I’m curious why Commissioner Manfred hasn’t decided to forfeit all of his salary until baseball starts playing or at least comes to an agreement to begin playing. After all, he did state it was 100% certain there would be baseball in 2020. My understanding is that he’s taking a 35% pay cut during Covid-19. That 35% needs to be 100%.

  • woofer

    Reschedule all the games to Tulsa. Live, with big cheering crowds. Just sign your liability waiver when you order the tickets, and then let the fun begin.