Will a 2020 major league baseball season happen anymore?
There’s still a chance, if the players’ union and the owners can agree on a plan to keep everyone safe and healthy, with fair compensation for the players and everyone whose livelihood has been affected. Even if that happens, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about a shortened season filled with rule changes and gimmicks, some of which will likely stay (universal DH, anyone?).
Teams are already reining in resources, cutting minor league rosters and salaries as they head toward what looks like a contraction of baseball’s whole farm system. The Nats would have been one of those teams cutting minor league salaries, had the players not joined together to fight the strategy and made it public on social media.
But if there’s no agreement, the 2020 season would be the first one canceled since the 1994 season was interrupted by a labor dispute and never concluded. Nationals fans who went without a team from 1971 until 2005 remember many more such occasions. In any case, the moment we know for sure that baseball won’t happen this season will be a difficult one.
But the game and its current structure will survive, so let’s not start whining about millionaires versus billionaires, and how it’s impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Instead, let’s take a look at this from the lens of everything else that is going on in the world.
As much as Washingtonians love baseball, there are plenty of us who would not even walk into the same streets where peaceful protesters were teargassed, let alone attend a ballgame under these conditions. Many of the Nats players are demonstrating on social media that they are dealing with the situation by walking the walk and advocating for people whose situation is worse than their own.
Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) is already known as one of the Nats’ most active tweeters, and he was among the first players to publicly question the owners’ proposed health and safety conditions, advocating for his fellow players. When civil unrest broke out May 29, Doolittle tweeted his support for people protesting the police-involved death of George Floyd and has since retweeted dozens of messages renouncing racism.
Doo also showed his leadership on Sunday when it was revealed that the team would release more than two dozen minor leaguers and reduce weekly stipends for the rest from $400 to $300. He immediately organized his teammates, who decided unanimously to contribute enough to make up for the lost wages. A few hours after Doolittle tweeted this news, the team relented and told the players they would not have to take a pay cut for the month of June. On top of that, Doolittle tweeted Wednesday that Nats players will be donating to More Than Baseball, a group offering financial assistance to displaced minor leaguers.
Max Scherzer (@Max_Scherzer) is also demonstrating that he’s thinking of less fortunate players. The Nats’ union representative was the first player to speak publicly on the owners’ initial proposal for a 2020 season. He flatly rejected the proposed division of revenues and called the owners out on claims of financial hardship. He went further, tweeting he believes “...MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.”
Scherzer is within his rights to fight for every dollar the players might earn this season, but it’s not his own salary that’s his major concern. Players have already accepted a prorated salary for this season; further curtailing it by limiting the number of games won’t hurt him much. But it hurts the lower-salaried players and the minor leaguers who might be called up to the majors under expanded rosters. Many of those guys who have been getting by on $400 per week, and some may never play in the big leagues again under any circumstances. They should have as much earning power as possible during their career.
It’s tough to be without baseball, and Washingtonians know that better than any other big-league city. It’s hard to know whether it will be safe to play again or whether games would even be possible if civil unrest continues. But if you root for Nats players, it’s good to know that they’re using their money and their Twitter mojo to advocate for players who have much less than they do – the guys who may, or may not, become the next generation of superstars.