Baseball: So close, or maybe not close at all

© Mandi Wright and Kelly Jordan, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Art Spander

So we’re close to baseball returning. Or maybe we’re not close at all.

Certainly the primary concern in this time of the virus is the health and safety of players, team personnel and fans, really everyone.

Which makes this break different from those of the past.

Then there’s the question of finances, salaries, franchise profits.

Which makes it much the same.

You know the line: When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. Supposedly it first was written by the journalist H.L. Mencken in the early part of the 20th century. He also said that people deserve the government they get, but right now we’ll stick to sports.

Something we haven’t had for weeks because of the necessary lockdowns and restrictions.

Now, however, the executives who run baseball have put forward a plan to bring it back, assuming there is clearance from the authorities. Training in June at home ballparks; then a reduced schedule of some 80 games starting in July.

There’s only one obstacle. That would be the players, because the proposal includes a 50-50 revenue split.

Did we say it’s about the money?

We know baseball may no longer be the so-called national pastime, that according to polls it has fallen behind football. What a great opportunity, then, to get public attention, to get the interest of those who had forgotten the appeal of the sport or never have known it.

Out of our shelter, into the sunlight — or the arc light — if the officials give the okay. A midsummer renaissance. We won’t care if we ever get back, especially to our recent entrapment.

But it’s still tentative. Baseball’s labor problems have been notoriously contentious. Who would have thought the owners would eliminate the World Series in 1994? Who knows whether the players will eliminate the season in 2020?

Baseball, all sports, exist because people care.

They are tied emotionally to a team or the beauty of the game, or both. Fans purchase tickets, buy paraphernalia, watch on television.

The NFL, NBA and NHL have revenue splits. Each also has a salary cap, and revenue, primarily from national TV, is shared.

There’s no salary cap in baseball, and there are two types of revenue: local (the Dodgers probably earn 15 times what the A’s do for local TV), nearly half of which is pooled and shared, and national, which is shared equally.

The proposals for this 2020 season is for games early on to be played without fans, meaning no ticket sales, concession sales or souvenirs — and trimmed salaries.

Yes, players are itchy to return, but not on a lowered salary. The country is desperate for sport, for an escape — but not, the players insist, at their expense. To the players, there’s more than a hint of a cap, and that’s not a reference to the ones they wear.

What America needs now, maybe all the time, is its games, its traditions, its history.

The reality is that professional baseball is a business. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale staged a daring dual holdout before the 1964 season. Babe Ruth once refused to report.

And yet we look the other way. We know a kid has to earn money, has to support himself and his family. But we care about the hits and runs, about the joy of watching a close play at first or the agony of a blown save in the ninth.

The thought that baseball is not far off is enticing. The season, if it is held, will be unusual.

Just as our world is right now.

The hope is that the owners and the players' union, more than anyone, will grasp both the reason to get together and get us back the game we miss.

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