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Baseball talk has been the biggest casualty of the lockout

Hot-stove conversation is the lifeblood of the game.

Fall Stars Game Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

I haven’t yet weighed in on the misery that is the MLB lockout, mostly because I’m numb to the stupidity that both sides have exhibited. I know nothing about labor negotiations; I’ve never negotiated my own salary in the 45 years or so that I’ve been a post-college professional. That’s not because I’ve earned a great salary; it’s because I wouldn’t know how to even go about it. I’ve always figured that if I didn’t like my compensation, I should find another job – and I’ve done that a time or two. I’ve never gotten rich, though, I can tell you that.

I actually don’t care much about the sticking points in the current labor negotiations. I’m neither pro-player nor pro-owner, although I suppose I lean more toward the working man. I just wonder how or why it took the two sides so long to get a deal hammered out. What the hell were they doing around Halloween or Veterans Day or Thanksgiving? Why couldn’t they be meeting then? The whole process is aggravating and annoying – and that’s just the letter “a.”

The most recent thing I heard is something about MLB threatening to cancel games if an agreement wasn’t reached by the end of the month. So – at the risk of mixing my metaphors — will that be the straw that brings the players association to its collective knees? Will they be willing to lose a few paychecks in the name of holding out for a better deal? Who knows? I would guess the higher-paid players won’t miss those checks, but what about those toiling for the minimum salary? Or those just trying to make a club as a fringe player or non-roster invitee? I’m guessing they won’t be wild about missing the chance to show what they can do.

As I said, I’m more or less numb to the whole scenario. I’ve lived through work stoppages and strikes in the past. I remember the ’94 work stoppage; some fans said they’d never come back to the game. My wife at the time, who was a huge fan, never got past it. I did; I’m not proud that I did, but how could I just say goodbye to the game I grew up loving and following? I could not.

I was back in the fold as soon as play resumed the following season, despite missing the previous season’s postseason and a chance to watch Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants chase Babe Ruth’s home run record. Williams had slammed 43 home runs in the season’s first 115 games before the stoppage put an end to his chase. No telling if he’d have caught or passed Ruth, but for a lifelong Giants fan, it would have been fun to watch, particularly since the club had won 103 games the previous season – and didn’t even make the playoffs.

So what if MLB starts canceling games? How bummed would you be? To be honest, I’d miss those games, but it wouldn’t destroy me. I’ve never been a huge fan of April baseball – particularly the first couple of weeks. Baseball and snow – even baseball and cold weather – are not my idea of a marriage made in heaven. Baseball is a warm-weather sport, and I don’t at all enjoy shivering at a game. I spent years doing just that at Candlestick Park, but that was in the middle of summer. I can remember attending a Pittsburgh Pirates game at PNC Park during the first weekend of the 2019 season when it was definitely cold enough to snow. It was not fun.

All of this is to say that if MLB cancels the first two weeks of the season, it won’t break my heart, assuming the players are in Florida and Arizona getting ready for the rest of the campaign. Baseball means hot summer nights, sitting in the stands at PNC Park in shorts and a T-shirt, or sitting on the back deck in the same attire, listening on the radio. As long as they’re back and playing by May, that’s all I care about. I realize I’m in the minority – after all, what would that do the almighty numbers? But we’ve had partial seasons before, and somehow the game has survived.

The thing that bothers me more than anything isn’t the idea of games being canceled. After all, 162 games is a long haul. It’s that the lockout has brought a halt to any meaningful conversation about the game. Things like free-agent signings, trades, the Rule 5 draft. For true fans of the game, those things are just as intriguing as the games themselves. Baseball talk IS baseball. And it’s been far too silent for far too long.