By Dan Schlossberg
Welcome to nuclear winter.
Well, not exactly “welcome.”
After watching players and owners pummel each other over the timing, rules, and scheduling of the virus-shortened 2020 season, there was no doubt that the game would halt again the minute the Basic Agreement expired.
When the clock strikes midnight Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 2, 2021, baseball will disappear under the blanket of its first work stoppage since the 232-day player strike of 1994-1995.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking on behalf of the owners, said only that a lockout by the owners now is better than a strike later by the players because it won’t wipe any games off the schedule.
That statement was naive, insulting, and unwarranted.
The first casualty will be the Baseball Winter Meetings, scheduled to start in Lake Buena Vista, FL on Dec. 6. That event, cancelled by Covid last winter, is traditionally the highlight of the off-season — a chance for baseball to grab back-page tabloid headlines away from football, basketball, and hockey.
It is also a time of trades, signings, and rumors, all creating a buzz that helps teams sell tickets not only for the season to come but also for spring training.
Now we might not have spring training. The March 31 start of the season could be in jeopardy too — especially since players must have some sort of pre-season preparation to get ready.
In short, nuclear winter is upon us. Should the game shut down, there will be no transactions, no trades, no free agent activity, and no news about arbitration, rules changes, or anything else that usually surfaces during the winter.
If Manfred and Tony Clark, head of the players union, can’t get along, both should step down or be fired. Immediately if not sooner. New blood is the best bet when only bad blood exists — and the two sides hate each other with more fury and venom than Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
When billionaires and millionaires can’t decide how to divide their rich booty, they risk alienating fans forever. Those of us who remember the player walkout that wiped out the 1994 postseason remember that well.
A nuclear winter creates a radioactive atmosphere from which America’s national pastime may never recover. Yet Manfred, Clark, and their minions never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Which brings a bit of irony into the situation.
Marvin Miller, the hard-nosed negotiator who headed or advised the players union through eight work stoppages, was ushered into the Hall of Fame little more than two months ago — after seven previous rejections by various veterans’ committees.
If a work stoppage ensues in the year of his election, he would only be smiling — at least to himself — at the timing.
And if the two warring sides can agree — as they already have — to move the deadline for tendering contracts from Dec. 2 to Nov. 30, surely they can agree on enough other things to at least extend the negotiating deadline a few weeks and salvage the winter meetings.
Sadly, that might just be too much to ask.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: 2021 World Championship Edition and 38 other books. He covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, and Latino Sports, among others. His e.mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.