So here we are in Week One of baseball’s lockout, the ninth work stoppage in the game’s history, fourth lockout and first during a pandemic, another ennobling moment for the same game that gives us Trevor Bauer still in the employ of the Los Angeles Dodgers (In case you missed it, the pitcher/pariah recently exercised the $32 million option on his contract for 2022).
But dear fan, fear not. For $10 less than it would cost you to buy a beer at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, we offer you The Survivor’s Guide to the 2021 Baseball Lockout, an exercise made of equal parts common sense, self-preservation and a pledge to avoid unnecessary aggravation at a time when even a visit to your neighborhood shopping-mall Santa Claus may not be worth the risk.
Rule No. 1: Do not pay the least bit of attention to the lockout before mid-February at the earliest. You will be missing only sound and fury, signifying nothing. Players aren’t losing paychecks in the off-season, and the owners aren’t yet losing customers, though a lockout makes selling season tickets a bit more problematic. So, neither side will be sufficiently motivated to strike a deal until they reach a point where pocketbooks will be affected, which is spring training exhibition games. The owners will not want to lose out on all the cash that comes from overcharging for practice games in which fans get to see their heroes for an at-bat or two at most, while still not having to pay salaries; the players, especially the scores of yet unsigned free agents, will be getting antsy about their job prospects for ’22.
But you as a fan have little obligation to understand the economic issues that are keeping the sides apart, for this simple reason: There will be a deal. There is too much money at stake for both sides, and no one on either side wants a repeat of the 232-day work stoppage in 1994 that led to the cancellation of the World Series.
The same billionaire owners sounding alarms about the health of the game just laid out $1.4 billion in an orgy of free-agent spending just before implementing their lockout. The public, meanwhile, tends to villainize the millionaire players, even if they are entitled, the same as any other union, to negotiate for what they perceive is their fair share of all the money their bosses are raking in, especially at a time when their cut of the pie is shrinking.
The average salary of $4.17 million at the start of the 2021 season is down from a peak of $4.45 million in 2017, and the drop to $1.15 million in median salary -- the place where an equal number of players are earning above or below the figure -- is even larger, a 30 percent decrease from the high of $1.65 million at the start of the 2015 season.
The top-end players are making more than ever (Max Scherzer $43 million a year, smashing the previous high of $36 million), but the rank and file are not keeping up; more than a third of the players (316) on Opening Day rosters in 2021 were being paid less than $600,000 a year.
But that’s all we’re going to say on the subject. Let the owners and players fight it out; you have better things to do.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Make use of your clicker. There are thousands of hours of college basketball and hockey, NBA and NHL games to fill your hours. And a record 42 college football bowl games, beginning Dec. 17 with Middle Tennessee-Toledo in the Bahamas Bowl, Coastal Carolina-Northern Illinois in the Cure Bowl. At least as exciting as Orioles-Rangers. And did we mention soccer?
- Go watch your hometown high school basketball or hockey teams. Boys or girls. You’ll love the passion. Saturday morning kids’ games are a hoot.
- If you still need a baseball fix, read Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100. At 880 pages, it should keep you occupied through the winter. And at 2.7 pounds, you can also use it for wrist curls.
- Not a reader but still pining away for the game? Pretend you’re the next Gabe Kapler or Kevin Cash and manage your favorite team in Dynasty League Baseball, a tabletop simulation game designed by a soft-spoken Milwaukee Brewers fan named Michael Cieslinski, who has basically devoted his entire adult life (35 years) to making what he contends is the most realistic sim game on the market. Maybe you grew up playing Strat-o-Matic or APBA; Cieslinski’s game comes in tabletop or on-line versions, and you can even dip into past seasons if you’d like. A pretend Mookie is better than no Mookie.
- Take a course in How to Speak Southern. You, too, can sound like Brian Kelly, who grew up in Massachusetts, coached at Notre Dame but suddenly decided he should sound like Jeff Foxworthy when he was hired to coach football at LSU. At $9.5 million a year, he probably can afford a few more lessons.
- Don’t let MLB spoil your fun; make the vacation trips you planned to Florida and Arizona. You still can get out of the cold, play golf, go to the beach, visit Disney and, if you need bats and balls, there are plenty of college teams touring all over both states.
- Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Hulu, Disney, Apple-Plus. Etc., etc., etc. You may never go back to baseball.
- La Crema Sonoma Coast. Broad, juicy and balanced.