Bradford: Here comes one of the most important weeks in the history of baseball

Rob Bradford
May 25, 2020 - 9:40 am
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Baseball is on the edge of the abyss. Too dramatic? Too bad.

The deal is this: Major League Baseball is about to present a financial proposal to its players’ association Tuesday. By most accounts it is not going to be the line-in-the-sand plan that incorporates the two words that will send the MLBPA running away screaming, “revenue sharing.”

There is hope.

There seems to be some well-meaning back and forth involving the shock and awe safety guidelines put forth by MLB. And if it is true we have gotten past the Twitch message put forth by Blake Snell, which had dribs and drabs of truth but forgot the most important piece of this puzzle, perception.

There are so many questions in paving a path to a 2020 season. So many hoops to jump through. But unless baseball — owners and players — understand the ramifications of just one more misguided step this week, the window will be closing on the sport like perhaps never before.

Baseball has been warned of such a fate in the past, with the work stoppages in 1981 and 1994 serving as the primary examples. And for the past few years there have been plenty of storylines of how this sport’s demographic was solely made for AARP advertisements without hope of cracking the 20-something code owned by basketball and football.

This is different.

Let’s play this out …

The players get the proposal Tuesday and somebody on their side - Tony Clark, an agent, another Snell-esque voice — publicly calls it a bunch of bunk. Maybe it would be justified, maybe not. But no matter. It certainly doesn’t offer the about-face these negotiations seemingly desperately need.

Time continues to tick. Basketball keeps drawing closer to setting up shop in Disney World. Hockey? It keeps giving off the vibe of a sport whose players are driven to come back more than most. And don’t worry about football. It pretty much hasn’t skipped a beat since this whole pandemic started and until something changes doesn’t seem to be losing its momentum any time soon.

But here would be baseball, still with its back-and-forth as May turns into June with July hovering around the corner.

It is important to get this right, no question. But the problem with the way baseball has progressed in recent weeks is two-fold: 1. The longer the sport waits, the less people care. Sports fans will be basking in the socially-distant competition supplied by these other options with baseball drifting further in the background; and 2. That “perception” word again. Sorry, it’s more powerful than ever. People aren’t really into millionaires and billionaires squabbling these days, especially about a game that has long represented the foundation for our love of sports.

Why this is different from ’81 and ’94 is because baseball was always going to find its way back after those hiatuses. The sport was still too popular not to. This time there is no such luxury.

Before it was anger. Now it will be something much worse: Apathy.

This is the exact moment baseball needs to understand it is now or never when it comes to accepting this reality.

Major sports rarely get the opportunity to get a good look at their crossroads before picking a path. Baseball, don't waste the opportunity.