Most people believe if there is a logical sporting connection to the fallout from the nation’s recent protests it will be to see how NFL owners respond to their commissioner’s statement that the league was wrong not to listen to its players. Since the NFL season remains three months away, I’ll shelve that for today and go another direction.
Call it the rule of unintended consequences. While larger issues were at stake and baseball was on virtually no one’s mind in protests here or in major cities around the country, the 2020 season may have just been saved in the process. It’s all a matter of the owners and players being smart enough to see it and accept it.
It’s simple if you think about it.
The major sticking point that has prevented owners and players from coming to an economic agreement relates to the billion dollar losses created by empty stadiums. But how do you look at video from the protests in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. — massive crowds of masked citizens filling the streets — and then say we still need crowd-less baseball games in those cities this summer?
We already know the governor has suggested professional teams in Texas can play to 50% capacity. That would permit the Rangers and Astros regular crowds of 20,000 or so. And who knows if that number might rise? Ironically, it almost certainly would require keeping the roof open in both stadiums since there is ample evidence that the virus is transmitted more easily indoors than outdoors.
There has been no suggestion that Yankee Stadium or Nationals Park could be filled with fans next month. But what if the data shows that it’s OK to do that very thing?
It’s too soon right now to know what the COVID-19 result of hundreds of thousands of Americans gathering or walking together in the city streets will be. A Centers for Disease Control spokesperson said Sunday the agency is monitoring the situation closely. People can be asymptomatic for a week to 10 days. But in a short period of time, you will have a case study on where we are with the virus in terms of outdoor crowds that scientists could only have guessed at two weeks ago.
If there is no rise in cases in those cities or if the numbers are acceptable — in general if a major spike is avoided — then this will be good news that commissioners and authorities in every sport will be able to address. That story about Cowboys owner Jerry Jones standing to lose twice as much revenue as every other NFL owner just might disappear.
Now it should be a different experience from what we have known. Masks will be required, so the non-stop eating/drinking experience of attending a baseball game could be curtailed.
But it creates opportunity. The owners showed their usual short-sightedness Monday, offering players a new 76-game plan with a different formula for salary reductions that will be quickly dismissed. Actually, the owners should renew their original plan to share revenues 50-50 for a shortened 82-game season. No one is going to know for sure what crowd sizes will be acceptable and in what cities, but the numbers should grow as we move on towards the fall. And if they do make this revenue-sharing offer, players must come off their high horse about never taking a revenue deal because it sounds too much like a salary cap for their liking.
Sidebar: I’ve never understood the MLBPA’s insistence they have won some battle here. Yes, they have avoided a salary cap but there exists a highly restrictive luxury tax that is the reason last year’s spending leaders — the Boston Red Sox — dispatched of Mookie Betts to Los Angeles. The tax is a de facto salary cap. On top of that, unlike the salary cap sports, there is no spending floor. While four teams spent over $200 million last year, 10 teams spent less than half of what Boston shelled out and six teams were under $100 million. What do the players think they are winning?
The alternative is for owners to stick with their 82-game proposal and remove all the reductions from the players’ prorated salaries. This would be expecting the owners to bite the bullet and actually do something for the good of the game, and that’s a bit much to anticipate from either side in this ongoing debate. But it’s worth a thought. Owners will lose money, but not nearly as much as they imagined if those seats are being filled as the summer goes along.
On the larger, more significant scale, an opportunity for people to listen to each other and heal long-standing wounds exists in this country today. Go way down the ladder until you find the game of baseball, and it’s entirely possible that disaster has been avoided and a season saved by people marching in the streets and providing the test cases that sports needed.
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