Against the backdrop of a pandemic that still rages on, the start of spring training is fast approaching. Fans are advised to enjoy that development while they can -- it's highly doubtful it will be taking place a year from now.
For the moment, let's skip over the myriad of challenges MLB faces for its 2021 season -- the risk of infection for players, umpires and support staff -- and fast forward to something equally sinister: the threat of a labor stoppage before the 2022 season can commence.
Baseball has enjoyed a period of relative labor peace for more than two decades. Not a single game has been lost to labor discord since 1995 -- something none of the other three North American professional sports leagues can boast. There was a time, not that long ago, that the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement barely got the attention of anyone, so routine and ordinary was the process.
Today, that notion seems quaint. There is trouble ahead — with an ugly showdown that appears virtually unavoidable.
Consider that twice in the last nine or so months, owners and players have been unable to reach a compromise to help ensure a successful season in the midst of a pandemic. Last summer, when the sides were locked in a stalemate, commissioner Rob Manfred imposed a 60-game schedule by executive fiat. (The two sides later negotiated some last-minute provisions to the deal, but the length of the schedule and other fundamental details were determined solely by the commissioner.).
More recently, Manfred proposed pushing back the start of the season by approximately a month, reducing the schedule to 154 games while paying the players for a full 162-game slate. The Players Association feared that the plan would give Manfred too much power to cancel games if the virus worsened -- despite assurances from Manfred that language would be inserted to preclude such a power grab.
The players reviewed the proposal for a period of a couple of days and summarily rejected it.
So, here we are: One-hundred and sixty-two games, an April 1 opening day, and for now, at least, no expanded playoffs.
As is typical of these matters, there's plenty of blame to go around.