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Blubaugh: Terrible time for MLB’s millionaires and billionaires to commit major error

When it comes to coronavirus pandemic response, the heroes and villains are largely in the eye of the beholder. It depends on one’s outlook and political leanings, whether any individual or group has exceeded expectations or failed miserably.

So Gov. Hogan has either knocked it out of the park or struck out with his leadership. To some, Dr. Anthony Fauci is the MVP, but to others he has committed error after error.

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One thing should be universally agreed upon, however: When discussing winners and losers during the crisis, Major League Baseball goes directly to the bottom of the standings.

Everyone associated with the national pastime — the players, the owners, the union, the commissioner — looks terrible, whining and arguing about money and failing to get a plan in place to start the season while our country deals with unprecedented job loss, more than 120,000 deaths from COVID-19 and, not nearly as important but also not insignificant, three largely quarantined months without even the diversion of live sports.

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Of course, national pastime is a huge overstatement at this point. Football long ago took that distinction from baseball, helped in its ascension by the lengthy MLB strike in 1981 and the World Series that was lost to more labor unrest in 1994.

It’s never a good time for a public relations nightmare, but this is a terrible time for MLB to commit such a miscue.

The sport remains relatively healthy because fans love their local teams. So the good people of St. Louis, New York, Boston and Chicago come out in droves to watch the Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs play, produce hefty TV ratings and buy up merchandise of their favorite players. It’s like that in nearly every market. But the national footprint is gone.

Fans simply don’t pay attention to the other teams or the sport as a whole. Game 2 of last year’s World Series, featuring the eventual champion Washington Nationals, garnered 2 million fewer viewers across the nation than a meaningless NFL regular-season game the following night featuring the dreadful Washington Redskins.

And young people? It’s essentially a shutout. The game takes too long, it’s filled with inaction as the ball is so rarely put into play in this era and it’s been caught looking as other sports’ athletes have been hitting grand slams on social media. Everybody knows Kyrie Irving, a talented but overrated NBA point guard. Nobody knows Mike Trout, the consensus best player in baseball who is making a case to go down as an all-time great.

If the NFL was talking seriously about not having a season in 2020, there would be panic in the streets. The MLB floats it and ... crickets. That should terrify everyone involved enough to get serious at the bargaining table and ensure there is a season. That hasn’t happened to this point.

Instead we have star players like Bryce Harper and Gerrit Cole and Blake Snell adamant that they won’t play for the measly multiple millions they would have to settle for. And we have owners, rich beyond rich from their real careers or inheritances, set to make ludicrous profits should they ever sell their teams, perfectly fine with not playing this season out of fear that they might wind up in the red.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country is making the best of it, trying to keep their small business in business or working from home or on unemployment, hunkered down with family or alone or inconvenienced with masks or weighted down with PPE.

If baseball players and owners didn’t want to come back strictly out of concern for the health of players or fans, fine. We’d all get that. They’d get a pass and we’d just wait ‘til next year.

But this is all a negotiation between millionaires and billionaires, figuring out how to divvy up a huge sum of money, albeit a smaller-than-expected sum thanks to the coronavirus shortening the season.

It’s about money, but it’s also about two sides that don’t trust each other, don’t like each other and want to beat each other in this deal. The optics are awful and everyone involved should be embarrassed.

Perhaps they will eventually reach an accord and cobble together just enough of a regular season to get to the postseason, where the big money kicks in. But even if that’s the case, no matter which side wins, MLB has already lost.

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Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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