The most amazing part of MLB's labor dispute is that both parties are clueless. They have no idea the damage that is being done, the irreparable harm to their own reputations. You cannot seriously claim canceling this season would "kill the sport." There will be an iteration of baseball for generations to come in America. Cancel this season? Opening Day 2021 will happen. Cancel that? Opening Day '22 is set in stone, mark it down. Ten years from now, whether Rob Manfred actually shot the owners and players via SpaceX into orbit, MLB would exist in some fashion. That's not the issue.
At stake is not whether the game will survive. It's what type of shape will it be in when it does return? The last 48 hours have been so sad it's funny, so comical it's tragedy. When the players pushed away from the dinner table and proclaimed, "Tell us where, tell us when," it appeared over. Whatever the owners returned with would be the structure of the season, assuming it was full pro rata. The players all used their social media platforms to reassert their stance. Even Mike Trout, the most famous and dynamic force in the game, a living legend in his prime, echoed the marching orders. "Tell us where, tell us when." Trout is one of the least vocal, least opinionated superstars in sports. If he was drawing his line in the sand, the union's declaration had legs.
The owners offered 60 games full pro rata. They told them where and when. The players? They balked. Rob Manfred then flew to meet with union executive director Tony Clark. After four hours together, the commissioner felt he had an agreement and outline on a season. They had the where and the when. Nope. Wrong again. The egg is on both parties' faces, yolk dripping down their chins like a "You Can't Do That on Television" sketch. The owners dawdled and bluffed a series of insincere offers. Then a few of them claimed they don't actually make any money (as a billion-dollar deal was done with Turner). Then the players claimed they would play anytime, anywhere as long as the salaries were full. In the end, we are still at a stalemate, and no one can agree on what they supposedly agreed to.
What happens when they finally return? Will the union be looked at as disingenuous clowns? Will the owners be seen as greedy, stubborn fools? Will the love of the hardcore fans be eroded? Will the casual fans be disgusted? Will the fans of other sports be emboldened? Will it be harder to be in business with the league?
These are vital questions because the world is far different than the last time MLB begged America to stop hating it. In 1994, we still read newspapers. We had no internet. Soccer was invisible in the U.S. MMA wasn't an entity. E-Gaming was yet to be invented. The NBA was not the cultural force it now is. Our attention spans were longer. Our options were more limited.
Baseball suffered mightily for the strike in '94, but within four years America was largely back on board. Cal Ripken's feel-good story of work ethic and humility was the first salve to the wound. The home run chase of '98 gave baseball its cool factor back. But even then playoff and All-Star Game ratings would never be the same. The NFL kept growing. Michael Jordan's second three-peat happened, then Kobe and Shaq and LeBron and the Warriors soaked up the sizzle. College football exploded. And baseball had fallen well behind in cultural relevance.
Today, baseball's clawing for even less territory than '95. College football has grown into a power because of a playoff and great television exposure. Young Americans have plenty of soccer to choose, including highlights in their hands from any league in the world, a healthy MLS in almost every major city, and one of the best-selling video games in the world. UFC is a cultural force, with speed, violence and personalities. Kids can play video games as a team sport, and can watch others play video games in major arenas. The NBA carries the day's sports soap opera, and its stars' popularity have blown past anything MLB can market. These are the tangible threats to baseball's place in sports.
What about the intangibles? There's also the grey area where baseball just "feels" less important because it wasn't there, or because they fought over money when America didn't have much, or because it's slow or old or boring. There's the "threat of whatever" for millions of fans. Baseball? Whatever. I have a million other options on my phone, Netflix, YouTube, and Xbox. I don't know any of the players. I don't care about the teams. I've moved on. There's something else I'd rather do or watch.
The problem is neither side sees this. They're more intent on being right. They're dead set on having the other side accept their terms. It's comical. It's tragic. And it's a freight train they can't see out of ego and because the financial pie has grown so substantially in recent years. This is already really bad for the game, and the two sides are completely unaware. Good luck, baseball. You're gonna need it.