It's been just about three months since MLB owners voted unanimously to lock out the players who make the game, after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement back on Dec. 2. Owners have for the most part spent that time refusing to negotiate, and whatever progress has been made toward a new agreement has been made around the edges, begrudgingly, in tiny little increments, and only very recently. Fans who were encouraged early last week that at least the sides were committed to daily meetings begin this week in a profoundly different state of mind: MLB's self-imposed deadline for an on-time start to the regular season arrives this afternoon, and there is no indication whatsoever that owners are willing to budge at all on the core economic issues that players argue disrupt the competitive integrity of the sport and artificially depress player salaries.
Owners and players have held daily meetings for more than a week now. There's a rhythm to the sessions. Each morning the various delegates return to the baseball complex in Jupiter, Florida, and we get a shot like this:
Then, at some point later in the day, delegates from one side will walk across the complex and enter the territory of the other side, to present or hear a proposal. And we get a shot like this one:
The negotiating sessions inevitably conclude short of agreement, and the delegates then return safely to base. The part of this agonizingly slow process that features serious-looking men walking across sun-baked Florida parking lots is diverting, but I for one would much rather be watching spring training baseball:
If there's lots to chew on and progress to be made in the negotiating sessions, the sides can stay in this condition for a period of hours. Monday the first combined session lasted about 45 minutes, in large part because owners are no longer even really pretending to be negotiating in good faith.
As a fan of the sport, it sucks very much to fully come to grips with what it will mean for baseball if owners wear down or otherwise break the will of the union. It will mean a league with locked-in mechanisms that allow and even encourage investor owners to gut the operations of their franchises, and locked-in tools for suppressing the salaries of the cool young guys who make the game exciting, and locked-in penalties for the very small handful of teams that are willing to pay whatever it takes to fill their rosters with good baseball players. It will not be easy to feel good about enjoying some summer baseball!
Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that the union will continue distributing monthly stipends to players in March, and that in April the amount per player will increase to $15,000. It's good that the players are fortified for a longer haul, because this infernal lockout shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
In light of this, I did not expect a wall of baseball faces to lift my mood perceptibly. That was before I gazed at the third face from the right in the top row of today's collection. It's a face we can all appreciate; it communicates with great gusto that baseball can still bring us joy in these troubled times, and also possibly that its owner sat on a small cactus. It is one of just six faces in today's collection that I recognize: An all-star shortstop, an MVP outfielder, possibly the coolest player of this generation, and (improbably) three Pittsburgh Pirates. Wow! Hey, how many do you recognize? Certainly fewer than six, you bum.
Below is the key to last week's collection of faces. Root for baseball to start on time, but more than that, root for investor owners to eat shit, preferably in the most literal sense.