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When This Fan Loses Interest, MLB Has A Big Problem

2020 Major League Baseball Draft
“The latest pro baseball player to be underpaid with nowhere to play is....”
Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As a teacher I used to tell my middle school students, if I ‘yell’ at you, you have nothing to worry about — I’m probably just frustrated in the moment and will get over it in a few seconds. When you should worry is when my voice gets quieter but my words not happy.

As a baseball fan I’m the same way. MLB has nothing to fear when I storm out of the room following a walk-off loss, vowing to quit baseball entirely because “it’s not even fun anymore!” By the next morning I will be eagerly awaiting first pitch and the chance to start a new winning streak.

So the fact that I will not be ranting or raving today is just one reason MLB should pause and think twice about the content of a post like mine — and what it might represent for fans across the country.

I won’t be so full of myself as to proclaim I am the A’s “#1 fan” or more of a fan than the next person. But let’s put things in proper perspective. I rearrange my days to accommodate A’s games, about 150 of which I watch on TV with the radio on or attend in person. Exceptions occur mostly when I am at work, during which time I find it hard to concentrate knowing I am missing the action. I stress if I am at risk of missing first pitch, which can drive me and my loved ones crazy.

I would honestly describe my fandom as bordering on ‘addiction’ and I mean that in a literal way. To the extent that an addiction controls your behaviors, compromises your choices, and is in charge of you, that can reasonably depict how I am controlled by the A’s schedule. Certainly my moods can depend on the outcomes despite my best efforts to rise above this regressive behavior.

Furthermore, during this bewildering, shelter-in-place dominated stretch part of my salvation has been keeping alive hope that baseball would be here at some point in the not-too-distant-future, even if only half a season’s worth of games, even if in a different alignment, even if I could not attend in person. During this time that I can’t root for my team’s game by game success, even when the odds have seemed long I have been rooting hard for baseball’s imminent return.

I say all this in preface to where I came to as a fan yesterday, while MLB was making its latest soon-to-be-rejected proposal and then following it up with an incendiary letter further driving apart two sides whose actions are highly informed by their mutual hatred for one another.

Where I have come to this week is a place much scarier than passion or fury, and that is a place of indifference. To major league baseball, to its owners and players both, I can honestly look you in your collective eyes and say: I don’t really care if you play in 2020 or not.

Depending on how you look at it, the players and owners had anywhere from an opportunity to an obligation to step up for a country reeling physically, emotionally, economically, and psychically. The opportunity was to enjoy center stage, and with it hero status, in front of baseball, basketball, football, other sports and non-sports fans alike. The obligation was one that comes with the power to help heal if you can step outside of yourself for even a minute.

And with this opportunity, with this obligation, what did you make of it? All you could think of was how much you loathed the other side and how much you wanted to grab hold of a small chunk of a huge pot — knowing that this ‘small’ chunk represented far more than your fans earned back when their jobs hadn’t disappeared overnight.

Now you’re haggling over less than half a season, facing the specter of Rob Manfred imposing a season of 48-54 games, the ultimate small sample that fails to separate the elite from the mediocre on the way to crowning an irrelevant “champion of nothing really”. Well on your way to further indulging your hatred of each other with a strike in 2022 that would mean the interruption of 2 seasons out of 3.

For this I should continue to pine for whatever shred of a season you can assemble, like an abused partner coming back for more just because that’s all I know how to do? I should keep caring who ‘wins’ the millionaire-billionaire battle and pretend you both couldn’t, and shouldn’t, have come up with a far more robust — and unselfish — game plan a month ago?

And here’s the part that should really concern you. If and when a ‘season’ occurs, will this fan watch? Yes, I’m sure I will. See? This is no rant. I’m sure I will because I don’t have a whole lot else going on right now, and I do love baseball. And I already pay for the cable service that airs the games.

But will I watch with passion? No. Will I care much about the results? Not really. Will I watch the post-season beyond the A’s involvement? Probably not. Will I offer you a penny of my hard-earned salary? Nope. Have you lost a ton of loyalty and goodwill that will not be magically regained once the fighting and the pandemic are behind us? Oh yes.

Mostly, though, I’m here to say: if you hate each so much, just cancel the season altogether. This fan — this baseball addict in the most literal sense — really doesn’t care if you do. And in the context of how many fans care less than I do, that should scare both sides quite a bit.