The opening day of the 2020 Major League Baseball season was scheduled for March 26, that’s only 710 days ago. Considering how quickly we’re all aging due to the exhaustion of the daily news cycle in the 2020s, it’s entirely understandable if this feels more like 710 years ago, or if you can’t remember it Open Letter Commissioner Rob Manfred “wrote” to fansno matter how it started:
“Opening day holds an important place in our hearts. It signifies the arrival of spring, the promise of a new beginning, a return to following your favorite team on a long journey of twists and turns, and the hope that your team will put together a magical season that you will remember forever.”
Nearly two years later, Opening Day doesn’t appear to matter as much as it once did after Manfred canceled the first two series of the season last Tuesday, as the CBA closed negotiations with the MLBPA after a brief burst of optimism overnight previously fizzled out.
And March 31 – which may seem awfully far away given some of the events taking place around the world – will mean something else entirely: the continuation of long-standing complaints, fans of all teams finding their way to their long journey already shared with Roadblocks are littered and the very real possibility that we will remember the 2022 season as the one where Manfred decided it was better not to play at all than, in his March 26, 2020 words, the latest example for delivering on how baseball is helping American society “… get through tough times.”
It will also cement and permanently stain Manfred’s legacy, even if negotiations resume soon, Opening Day comes just days later than planned and a 162-game season ends. However, we wouldn’t rush to your favorite MLB-legal online sportsbook to bet on it. As Forbes colleague Marty Brown noted on February 18 — three days before owners and players got together for a week-long meeting in Florida — losing games are less about negotiation and more about inflicting pain on the other side.
And the threshold of owners can be infinite. To borrow a phrase from another sport (for a year or two, anyway), there’s a lull in play for the owners, whose investments keep getting better and lucrative, regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen that year.
It will be the latest proof of how silly and easy it was to disprove Manfred’s claim that “…an investment banker – actually a really good one” hired by Major League Baseball found that the stock market had a better return offers for its investments as an MLB franchise. That claim didn’t live up to the eye/smell test for anyone who remembered the Mets selling for $2.4 billion in October 2020 — by which time investors everywhere were several months deep in hourly doom scrolling of their portfolios – still the number-crunching Brown last month.
If owning a baseball team really was that difficult, 30 owner groups would be lining up to sell as the closure now enters its indefinite phase. Instead, as MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said Tuesday, it’s the players whose careers are defined by their finite nature. An opening day and the chance to be part of a Major League Baseball season is as cherished by future Hall of Famers as it is by Quad-A guys.
Manfred would never be anything but the least likeable character in this hiatus well before Tuesday, for reasons that are both timeless and unique. In principle, commissioners are guaranteed to be unpopular with all factions. Good luck finding someone who doesn’t resent any element of Bud Selig’s 23-year tenure, including his cancellation of the World Series, his anti-PED crusade after willfully fueling baseball’s post-strike surge in popularity, the Diluting the regular season, adding wild cards and turning the All-Star game into a farce by first overseeing a tie and then granting World Series home field advantage to the league that won the Midsummer Classic.
Manfred was even more consistent about what happens when you eliminate 42 minor league teams, does little to punish the figures on the field responsible for sign-theft scandals, calls the World Series trophy “a piece of metal.” , has overseen baseball’s least watched era for generations and doesn’t even manage to even occasionally at least pretend to enjoy baseball more than a root canal.
But last week he had a chance to follow Selig’s lead. While Selig oversaw the most cutthroat work stoppage in history (so far), he had enough sanity to get the optics in August 2002 – with memories of the 9/11 terror attacks causing disaster by persuading the owners to negotiate a new CBA , without the players going on strike.
Twenty years later, the world is entering the 25th month of a pandemic and the first full week of a conflict that has the horrific potential to be unlike anything most of us have ever seen. If ever there was a time when baseball served as a great unifier and distraction, it’s now.
Manfred’s actions in the early months of the Covid-19 era – when there was a real chance for Major League Baseball to capitalize on the first ebb of the pandemic by playing a roughly 100-game season before Manfred’s 60-game season introduced – never gave much hope that he would take on Selig.
But his public words and private demeanor – I’ve reliably heard Manfred share with others how important it was to him that no games were lost to the owner’s lockout – provided a glimmer of hope that shone much brighter for Monday night and Tuesday when both sides appeared to be nearing an agreement that would have been no worse than a draw for the owners.
Instead, we got to see Clark’s barely contained anger and Manfred’s…barely contained joy? Maybe he wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. Maybe he’s just awkward in social situations. But the sights and sounds of Manfred’s smiles and jokes at his press conference certainly contrasted with the mood of Clark and the players and did little to convince anyone that baseball in these most trying times and years is about to come.
All Manfred did on Tuesday was convince us of his legacy – equal parts omnipotent and powerless, while unwilling and/or unable to appease the hawks, who were still sore in 1994-95 — and that the only things emptier than the suits he’s wearing are the words he “wrote” on March 26, 2020.
“Baseball will return as soon as it’s safe. We must muster the optimism that is synonymous with Opening Day and the unwavering determination it takes to face an entire baseball season to help us through the challenging situation we are all facing right now.”