It has been embarrassing watching how the debate surrounding Major League Baseball’s return to play seems to have settled on how it’s all up to the players, either as a subtle under-current from much of the chattering classes or from former players such as Mark Teixeira, a union stalwart back in the day who seems to have no compunction telling players to take a 70-odd per-cent pay cut.
Hey, it’s one thing to demand a long-term view for the good of the game — that is, frankly, a sentiment to be celebrated whether or not there’s a pandemic — and another for a former player to call out current players and say they need to make this work for some sort of wider societal good. It’s also just wrong, because the truth is that in any professional sports labour dispute it is ownership that determines whether or not the game gets shut down, either by using a strategy that forces players into a corner and a strike or through a lockout. Seriously: I have covered sports for 40 years and reported on endless battles between billionaires and millionaires and I don’t ever remember thinking: “man, the players union is just spoiling for a confrontation.”
So, commissioner Rob Manfred and his owners could end this right now by moving boldly toward the players’ counterproposal, which has opened all sorts of doors. Look: if the financials are so bad that some teams will go under if games are played behind closed doors, then it is up to owners to obtain financial assistance or do something beyond telling players to “trust us.” If shutting down the game for a year really will help out some teams more than paying players a pro-rated share, then it might have to shut down. If being able to keep team books away from prying eyes is a hill worth dying on ahead of another collective bargaining negotiation after next year? That is, frankly, the prerogative of ownership and there’s nothing any of us can do about it.