If there’s anything the postponement of the players’ decision on Major League Baseball’s latest proposal to terms governing the 2020 season shows, it’s that external factors remain major stumbling blocks to any agreement. The union’s executive board scuttled formal voting, originally scheduled today, after franchise facilities were affected by coronavirus infections, leading to a league-wide closure of training camps. When they will reopen and when ballots will be filled and counted remain up in the air. Clearly, safety considerations come first.
Needless to say, the turn of events worsened an already tenuous situation. Negotiations under which competition could commence, continue, and culminate had already hit a snag. Along with other considerations, MLB players wanted a 70-game season at full prorated salaries. Owners refused to come up with a counteroffer, instead sticking to their latest one of 60 matches and an assurance of no grievances. The latter was up for a vote before the latest wave of infections hit, with rejection likely compelling commissioner Rob Manfred to come up with a mandated schedule open to legal challenges.
To argue that MLB is nowhere close to finding a solution would be an understatement. In large measure, the problem is nothing new; history has proven the league to be susceptible to injury from self-inflicted wounds. Which is just too bad, because acceptance of collective objectives is just the start of a long process. As the experience of the far more progressive National Basketball Association has indicated, there are countless other challenges to hurdle in the face of both the pandemic and increasing civil unrest brought about by the need to forward just causes.
At this point, fans have no choice but to cling to the hope that more reasonable quarters will prevail. Given life-and-death concerns, sports may seem trivial. To the contrary, they serve a crucial purpose at a time when all and sundry are desperate to find any semblance of normalcy to their lives. They uplift and counter pessimism, their very presence exemplifying the will not merely to survive, but to thrive. And, in this regard, those in MLB would do well to understand its raison d’etre, and fast. Else, it will wind up realizing too late that it was its own worst enemy.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.