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Dear MLB and MLBPA: What Do You Want?

Baseball is back? Will the 2020 campaign actually happen? How’d we get here?

Tony Clark, executive director of Major League Baseball Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

“What do you want (Burr)? If you stand for nothing, (Burr), then what do you fall for?” Those were words spoken to the character Aaron Burr, based on the senator from New York, in the musical “Hamilton.”

Burr’s affliction was that he was consumed with wanting to be in power and to be “in the room where it happens” – that is, making decisions and exerting influence.

How is this relevant to baseball? Well, I might argue that both Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association are suffering from similar fates.

Both are seeking power in the negotiations, but fans are left with the question: What are you fighting for? Like the senator, both sides are ostensibly attempting to garner support from their fans (“constituents”). The league claims financial turmoil; the players bark unfair treatment. The “no season happens without us” mantra that both sides seem to discretely carry sets them up on a collision course with failure.

Some recent developments have happened. After lobbing grenades back and forth, it looks as though a tentative deal might be in place. As Jeff Passan tweeted late Monday night, the PA is likely to move forth with the league’s July 1 report date.

[ed. note - “Which they eventually did agree to last night.”]

At that point, the biggest hurdle will be the health side of all this – a problem that, had agreements been reached at a more reasonable time, might’ve been largely avoided.

If you read my last piece for this website, you know that I’m not picking sides in this fight. To do so would be a futile and stupid gesture. For one, the “correct” choice isn’t quite the binary one presented by the media. Supposedly, you can be with the owners on the grounds of economic reasons. Fair enough. Or you can be on the players’ side, stating that they have, indeed, gotten the short end of the stick throughout the years and they’re fighting for what’s deserved. Also fair.

Or you can, as I have, become so disillusioned with the whole thing that you choose neither side and, as a result, choose the “fan” side. You see, the fan side is full of aggrieved parties. While we watch professional athletes bicker with their bosses, we become turned off by the whole ordeal. Although players and owners aren’t immune to the consequences of the current pandemic, and while many players aren’t “rich,” an attempt to stoke the embers of the “Average Joe”, who may be suffering significantly throughout all of this, in order to gain their support, is asinine.

Or everyone could unite under the umbrella of one common cause: The denunciation of Commissioner Rob Manfred. 2020 hasn’t been a year to remember for the head of baseball. In fact, it may be true that this year catalyzes the process for him to lose his position. Manfred was on thin ice as it was, what with the “go sit in the corner” timeout he implemented on the Houston Astros before calling the World Series trophy a “piece of metal.” Now he’s sufficiently turned away any and all who were willing to vouch for him in the first place. If there’s anyone out there still lobbying for Manfred, I would love to hear from you.

As has been pointed out ad nauseam, neither side has much been willing to cede anything to the other. The league has decidedly retooled several proposals to appear different but not change anything so as to be substantive. On the other side, the PA had a clearly drawn line of what they wanted, and on which they were unwilling to compromise much. Then, of course, we had the “Tell us when and where” debacle in which the league seemed, for the first time, on its back foot.

An issue the union might not have considered throughout this debacle was something Dan Szymborski pointed out on Twitter. In cases such as these, negotiations are about getting what you can, and not necessarily about withholding approval until you get what you perceive as what you deserve.

Now, finally, with the PA knowing that their abilities in this negotiation aren’t as strong as they’d like, they appear to be capitulating and are likely to agree to the league’s terms, pending the approval of health protocols. That’s all well and good for fans. That means baseball may return this year – something which was beginning to look bleak. Although, due to the nature of the negotiations, some fans may opt to not tune in this year.

What this all means for baseball is that we’re only delaying the inevitable: The league and union will be at odds again and a strike seems increasingly inevitable. Many are annoyed and will have left the sport by then, while others are distraught at the state of the game, especially those who have been spectators for many decades. It’ll be interesting, in a nihilistic and masochistic sort of way, to see what happens within the baseball world over the next few years. Some have prodded me about my sense of drama regarding the situation. Do I think baseball will die soon? Not really. But this is all an undeniably bad look and untenable situation for the league.

For those of you wondering how Burr’s story ends: It effectively concludes shortly after his arrival to the dueling grounds at Weehawken, New Jersey, with his old friend and enemy, Alexander Hamilton. He shoots the fellow founding father and first secretary of the treasury, mortally wounding him. Assign the League and Players’ Association to whichever figure you’d like but know what’s coming down the line. At the conclusion of the CBA, the league and union may find themselves in a sort of proverbial Weehawken at “dawn, guns drawn.” Let’s hope the result isn’t the same.

(Since this article was written, news was broken that baseball is returning. That’s good! But everything I’ve said here still applies.)