I don’t think of myself as old — cue younger readers laughing — but I can remember a time when the American sports landscape looked considerably different from today. I can remember when boxing was a big deal and one of the more-discussed sports on the media world, particularly back in the days of Mike Tyson, and especially when Buster Douglas shocked the world by knocking out Tyson. Heck, when I was growing up, horse racing was still a big enough deal that the local television-news sports reports included the winners at Belmont Park, Aqueduct racetrack, and Yonkers Raceway.
Compared the to the 1980s, today the National Basketball Association is exponentially more popular, the National Football League and college football are even more popular than they were a generation ago, NASCAR is much more than a regional sport, MMA and e-sports have arrived . . . and baseball has lost some ground. There are a variety of reasons for that, but one has to be that in 1994, the Major League Baseball season ended abruptly because of a labor dispute in what is arguably the most embarrassing moment in the sport’s history, outranking the steroid scandals, Pete Rose, and the Black Sox scandal. Other professional sports endured messy labor disputes — the NFL played three games with non-union players in 1987 — but no sport had managed to end a season without a champion the way baseball did that year.
And now . . . because of continuing differences between the owners and players about how to go forward with a quarantine-shortened season and smaller revenues, baseball might not have a season in 2020. As the weeks pass without an agreement on how to restart and how to split the limited revenue, the window for having a season is growing smaller and smaller — unless MLB plans on playing games into the winter. (Dr. Fauci doesn’t think that’s a good idea.)
Fans recognize that sports leagues are sailing into uncharted waters, and that organizing games in a safe manner during a pandemic of a contagious disease is difficult. No fan wants any player or coach to take any unneeded risks to their life or health. But among the big four team sports in America, baseball shouldn’t be having the hardest time. It’s a summer sport, usually played outdoors in sunlight, and basketball, hockey, and football have players running into and colliding with each other much more frequently.
The NBA and NHL promise games will return soon. Professional basketball is tentatively scheduled to return July 31. NHL’s training camp for players will return July 10. The NFL is currently scheduled to start the season on time, although Ohio governor Mike DeWine said that if the current coronavirus conditions in the state were in place August 6, then the traditional Hall of Fame induction ceremony and game would not go on as scheduled.
We know the NBA, NHL, and NFL seasons will be different because of the pandemic, but at this point, fans can be fairly confident that games will occur in some form this year, and one way or another, a champion will be crowned. Baseball? It’s still up in the air.
Baseball is still one of the big American professional team sports. But if it fails to have any season at all in 2020 . . . it may well slide in popularity the way boxing and horse racing did.