For those who followed Major League Baseball in the 1970s & 80s, acrimonious labor disputes and work-stoppages were nothing out of the ordinary. For years, the MLB Players Association feuded with team owners, culminating in the 1994 strike that wiped out August-World Series baseball.
Since then, an entire generation has grown up watching baseball free from labor cancellations. I am part of that group, having developed my appetite for Twins baseball just after the players returned to the diamond in ‘95. Sure, things got a little hairy back in ‘02— and the owners & players are never going to hold hands and sing Kumbaya—but ultimately deals were always reached and the games played on.
That’s all over now. For the first time in my baseball-watching life I will experience a collective bargaining-related cancellation of regular season games.
I feel like we were all desperately hoping against hope for a new deal to preserve Opening Day ‘22—but also privately bracing for the worst. I previously asked for suggestions on how to deal with a baseball-less existence, while James Fillmore struck a similar tone regarding loving sports when they don’t reciprocate the favor.
At this exact moment, lost in a swirl of anger of sadness, I struggle to fully articulate a stance or attitude towards the whole ordeal. On one hand, my intense fandom simply wants to see games played. I am the literal embodiment of “shut up and take my money!”, having recently upgraded my season ticket at Target Field and all my summer travel ideas revolving around ballparks.
On the other hand, I am disgusted by MLB’s—specifically Commissioner Rob Manfred’s—lack of good-faith negotiations through the entire process thus far. What the owners are offering in the vein of “concessions” is so insulting that I completely understand MLBPA’s desire to inform them of exactly which bodily orifice in which to insert their proposals.
Where does that leave us? No idea. Since March of 2020, the world seems to have gone into a spin cycle—with tumble-dry. Baseball hasn’t been any more or less immune. Fans were deprived of games for nearly four months in 2020, and it wasn’t until midsummer ‘21 that the ballpark experience seemed anything resembling “normal”. As such, it felt like we really, really needed a nice, normal 162-game swath to at least try and pick up the pieces.
To use another meme-able phrase: “this is why we can’t have nice things”.
There are, of course, other events transpiring of far greater practical importance than watching guys walking back and forth across parking lots in Jupiter, FL. Russia is committing war crimes against Ukraine, inflation is stalling the United States economy like a novice grinding a manual transmission, and there’s a political wedge driven so deep into the soul of this country that it seems impossible to know how to extract it.
I don’t have any logical or reasonable explanations for caring so deeply about baseball in the face of all the above, except to say this: I view baseball—all sports, really—as akin to poetry. Meaningful in ways that cannot easily be categorized or rationalized. Recall what Prof. John Keating had to say about poetry in Dead Poet’s Society...
“These are what we stay alive for.”
The world will go on spinning—one hopes—in lieu of double plays being turned or stretches being saved for the mid-seventh. But for as long as this lockout continues, all baseball fans have lost a bit of that spark of life that the start of a new season provides.