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With Baseball Back, What Are You Supposed To Do With All That Bitterness?

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 10: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred walks to a press conference during an MLB owner's meeting at the Waldorf Astoria on February 10, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Manfred addressed the ongoing lockout of players, which owners put in place after the league's collective bargaining agreement ended on December 1, 2021. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

A lot of baseball fans woke up today in a surprising fit of despair as their vows never to watch, support, or care about the game ever again have been rendered as laughable as all the other times they vowed to abandon this largely sedentary pastime. They feel had, and used, and abandoned by the players and owners whom they had gone to all this trouble to learn to hate.

Yes, the 30 operators and 1,200-ish players have agreed to hate each other more privately after nearly 100 days of bitter inertia and zero missed games. In other words, the status quo until the next time the owners want to squeeze their employees’ shoes.

But what of you, the scorned fan who worked up these vats of bilious froth only to find out that you are now expected to blithely forget that any of it was ever frothed? You, friend, have been had yet again. You watched a grand pissing contest that ran out of time and piss only because everyone’s bladders had emptied and nobody wanted to get off their chairs to go to the Piggly Wiggly and buy more water, thus rendering the entire argument pointless except to those who find bizarre masturbatory joy in the minutiae labor negotiations. If you are among those, you will do America a great service by keeping that particular kink to yourselves.

Now there will be those among you snarl, “Nobody cares about baseball,” which is demonstrably false except in your own be-lesioned head, or “I stopped being a baseball fan when the Red Sox signed Pumpsie Green,” which only tells us how old and racist you are, or even “I don’t like the universal DH,” in which case you kind of missed the whole point. You may also say, “Swell, but roger Rob Manfred with a barbed-wire jackhammer anyway,” proving that you understand all of this far better than even Jeff Passan.

The topline is that the owners won again, mostly because more players preferred to play no matter what the system becomes. The broader situation is that both sides feared that an extended lockout would have hastened what has already been happening for a decade: baseball’s continued decline as popular entertainment. None of the acquiescences made Thursday will change that, nor were they meant to. The only math they all agreed to in the end was that zero games means zero interest and zero income. The rest of it was donut crumbs on a picnic table on a windy day.

But as Passan and Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich and Jimmy Pitaro and Eric Shanks and Max Scherzer and Andrew Miller and Dick Monfort and John Henry all go their separate ways to bask in the glory of a job poorly done, who’s going to care about you, the newly unscorned fan? You had grievances that can no longer be expressed, let alone supported by your friends who said the same things you did. Do you just surrender and pretend it never happened? Do you just incoherently babble “Baseball’s back!” while your neighbors shoot you malevolent glances for bothering the dog? How do you cope with the loss of a loss?

Good question, and one that nobody will help you address. You are alone, abandoned by the people who kept you connected to a sport that just screwed up your spring and summer by giving you games when you thought you would have none. All the plans you made, the flights you booked, the nonrefundable Airbnbs you paid for because you knew the owners and players really meant it this time—all blown to smithereens. The one thing that you knew baseball could still do—make you hate the people who make baseball—is gone again because everyone inside the conference rooms got bored with the pretense of shaking their fists at each other like old drunks at a lodge meeting.

I mean, sure, you could wait until 2027 when the CBA comes due again, and you can rev up all those old hatreds and cynicisms and sighs of despair for the game you claim you grew up with while you were still in utero … all those games of catch with your dad you pretended to have and won’t ever have with your kid … all those Little League Saturdays when you watched the circle of life of parents cursing children while those children curse out volunteer umpires who are younger than they are … all those 4-2 postseason games between Cleveland and Minnesota that lasted 4:53, even after all the new time-saving measures introduced by the bucketheaded nightmares who rewrite the rulebook, that you said you’d miss even though you never watched any of them … all those games without Cowboy Joe West but with Angel Hernandez … all of it is back and less rewarding than ever, like tree blight, pet allergies, and eye infections.

But none of these things need be acted on right now. You have grieving to do about the death of your anger, and it won’t go away until Opening Day, when you turn to a pal and say with a radiating sadness, “Now tell me again why I gave a damn about baseball in January.” And be forewarned when your pal responds in agitation, “No. I don’t think I will.”