Costas says baseball owners and players are ‘myopic’ in dispute

Tribune Content Agency

ST. LOUIS — Baseball, in spite of itself, ultimately will reach enough of a détente to have a season, however shallow that season is.

But the short-term and even long-term aftereffects of the disenchantment created could be considerable, says Bob Costas, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who still is doing games for the MLB Network.

“They definitely had a chance to do something worthwhile, to really have a positive situation, if they could have come back on July 4,” Costas said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week. “That would have been symbolic, national pastime and all that stuff and get the jump on hockey, basketball and football which were way down the road.

“They could have had the landscape in team sports for themselves. They’ve turned a potential positive into a negative. No matter what they do now makes it even worse or lessens the damage just a little bit. Serious damage already has been done.

“The resentment is significant. People would have accepted it if they could have put together a half season of some kind, kept their internal squabbles as private as possible and gotten on the field and played. People would have understood that it was not a full, legitimate season but it was the best they could do under the circumstances. They would have accepted all that.

“Now, even if they come back, however many games they play, all this public acrimony in the midst of a time when people have even less patience for it than they had before … it’s all out there. It’s all known. There’s no smiley face to put on it.

“Even if they had threaded everything right through the negotiations and with the schedule and playing circumstances and most importantly the health concerns … if they had threaded all those needles, they’re still going to take a hit down the road,” Costas said.

And not just from a perception standpoint.

“People are going to have less disposable income when they play a full season — they hope — next year,” said Costas. “People are going to get back into the world for what they have to do. But a lot of people are going to be reluctant for a while to go to concerts or plays or to go to ballgames. So they were going to take a hit even if they had done everything right.

“Now you add all this resentment and a lot of people are going to say, ‘I’ll never go back.’ I don’t believe that. But I believe it will be a while before a lot of people go back and before the resentment simmers down.”

Baseball already is struggling how to cater to the millennials. Now it may be losing the older ones, too.

“A mistake baseball often has made is that you should modernize,” said Costas. “Even as a successful enterprise, you should look at it with a critical eye as in, ‘What can we do better?’ But a lot of time they reach for some unattainable thing that they don’t have while diminishing what they do have.

“Like when they proposed how they were going to expand the playoffs for a full-season schedule. What does that do for the regular season? If you’ve got a season where only one of the three division winners gets a bye and the other two division winners are thrown in with four wild cards, what does that do to the meaning and drama of a six-month march?

“It’s like a kid reaching for an extra cup of milk and, in the process, he knocks over a whole gallon of milk.”

In the tumult of the past three months, Costas said that the owners and players hadn’t necessarily forgot about the fans. But he said, “They don’t appreciate the impact. They’re so focused on winning important points at the bargaining table — which the players think are points of principle — while losing sight of the bigger picture.

“The one word I would use to describe this is ‘myopic.’

“Either side could win points at the bargaining table but they look like Pyrrhic victories no matter what they are because the road to getting there has been so destructive.”

Teamwork would be a more prudent approach to take, he offered.

“There is mutual interest here. They act like it’s a Holy War,” he said.

“It should be a clear-eyed business negotiation. They’re not selling widgets here. They’re selling something that’s dependent on people’s allegiance and good feeling. Sports is not essential. It’s something people do if they feel good about it.

“It’s not like, ‘It doesn’t matter how we pound out this negotiation. We’re selling widgets and people need widgets.’ That’s not what this is. You’re selling a feeling. That feeling has taken a whole lot of hits in baseball over the past generation and now it’s taken a huge body blow.”

A 50-game mandated season would have both merit and demerit, he said.

“Short of running the bases backwards, I would think people would accept anything under these circumstances. They’re unique circumstances,” said Costas. “The problem now is that if they play 50 games, everybody knows the reason why it’s only 50 games. It wasn’t because of that’s what the virus allowed. It’s 50 games because of their internal bickering.

“That’s what would make it unacceptable. It would be because they screwed it up.

“The sad thing for baseball is that people, in addition to the resentment, are going to say, ‘You know what? I thought I couldn’t live without it. But there is no baseball and I’m still alive. So I guess I can live without it.’

“For people like you and me, that’s heartbreaking. We’ve invested a good portion of our lives in the game.”


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