A history lesson in MLB, from the future

FILE - In this May 1, 2019, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell, right, is taken out by manager Kevin Cash, left, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Rays All-Star pitcher Blake Snell says he will not take the mound this year if his pay is cut further, proclaiming: “I’m not playing unless I get mine.” the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner said on a Twitch stream Wednesday, May 14 2020. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

CHICAGO — Good morning, students.

Welcome back to our class, “History of Baseball in America.”

I hope you all have read the required e-material for today, and in a minute we’ll have the book’s author, former baseball writer Adam Fraley, joining us to give his views on the extinction of what once was considered the national pastime.

Before Mr. Fraley Zooms in, let me remind you the e-papers on last week’s e-lesson, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of A-Rod,” are due tomorrow. This is our last session for the spring quarter, so if I don’t see your faces online again until next fall, please have an enjoyable summer, and, it goes without saying, stay inside.

So let me introduce Mr. Fraley, who will give a short summation of the end of baseball and then take a few questions. Please click on the chat button on the bottom right of your screens to ask Mr. Fraley a question. Mr. Fraley, are you there?

“Yes, I am here.”

Thanks for joining us. Now class, earlier this century Mr. Fraley covered the sport of baseball for what were known as newspapers and wrote the classic sports book “Baseball’s Most Influential Players: Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Jose Canseco and Blake Snell.” The e-podium is all yours, Mr. Fraley.

“Thanks, Professor Rosenthal, and hello, students.

“As you know if you read my book, baseball was a thriving sport in 2020, with more than $10 billion in revenues, before it came to an abrupt halt that March and never restarted. It had survived many calamities, including two world wars, the Spanish Flu, 9/11 and the strike of 1994, but went out of business because of a combination of factors stemming from the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.

“Things were going relatively well at the time, though millennials and Generation Z considered it too slow and were turning to other alternatives such as esports, which of course is now second only to the NFL in popularity. Some baseball players were making $200 million or more, and the value of some franchises was $2 billion-plus.

“But the spread of the virus that March forced all major sports to shut down, and baseball was the only one that did not survive. The owners and players tried to hammer out an agreement to return that summer, playing a half-season in empty stadiums with strict safety measures put in place.

“But the negotiations over player compensation bogged down after the untimely remarks of Mr. Snell, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, who made the famous Twitch speech in which he declared: ‘I’ve got to get my money. I’m not playing until I get mine, OK?’ A plaque with Snell’s quote later was added to the coronavirus exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., before it shut down in 2035.

“With unemployment at an all-time high, Americans were turned off by Snell’s ‘Where’s mine?’ attitude. And when the players union and owners couldn’t agree to a compromise on how to split revenues, the season was canceled in July. NFL training camps soon began, followed by the reformatted NBA and NHL playoffs, so fans quickly turned to the other major sports and forgot about baseball.

“Baseball teams lost an estimated $4 billion. Most franchise owners declared for bankruptcy, with the exception of White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who was saved by his ownership of the NBA’s Bulls, a franchise revived by interest in a documentary called ‘The Last Dance.’

“Major League Baseball folded in spring 2021. The majority of players either retired with their savings, became YouTube influencers or stocked shelves at Amazon warehouses. A group of celebrities that included Netflix showrunners and music stars such as Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper tried to form a new baseball league in the 2030s, with former President Winfrey as commissioner. But it lasted only 1 1/2 seasons, and that was the end of the national pastime.

“That’s it in a nutshell. Any questions? Yes, Brady?”

“Hi, Mr. Fraley. Why did they want to play in empty stadiums in the first place instead of inside a hermetically sealed dome like the NFL or NBA?”

“Well, Brady, hermetically sealed stadiums like the Funk and Wagnalls Dome didn’t exist back then. It wasn’t until the virus spread that sports teams were forced to include stricter safety regulations for all new facilities. Most baseball stadiums wound up being demolished and turned into electric car battery charging stations, except for Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, which became cemeteries. Next question is from, um, Serena?”

“Thanks, Mr. Fraley. Why were people so upset by Mr. Snell’s Twitch comment since he was just one player? And what’s a Twitch?”

“Good questions, Serena. After most fans saw Mr. Snell’s remarks as greedy and out of touch, his fellow players were afraid to speak their minds, even if they truly believed the owners were not living up to their contractual agreement. And the union leader didn’t want to be remembered for giving in to a salary cap after a generation of players had successfully fought against it during the strike of ’94, sacrificing their careers for future generations of players. That led to a stalemate that could not be resolved. And Twitch was an old-school streaming platform that eventually was replaced by modern streamers like Spasm, Fidget and Frazzle. Next up is Trea.”

“Thank you, sir. You mentioned the 2017 Astros cheating scandal in Chapter 18 — “I just want to bang on the drum all day.” Did the end of baseball mean the Astros escaped shaming from angry fans?

“Yes, Trea. The 2017 Astros became a mere footnote in baseball history. But the so-called 2020 Astros Shame Tour, or @AsteriskTour, managed to outlast the franchise and now has more than 2 million followers on Twitter. OK, let’s go to Payton, or is it Peyton?”

“It’s Payton, sir, like Walter. Thanks for Zooming with our class. If baseball had resumed in the 2020s, would the Corona Generation and the Gen Zers have retained interest, or would they have turned to the NFL, NBA, NHL and esports anyway, as Gen Xers and millennials did?”

“Ironically, the week baseball shut down it was about to institute a new rule to speed up the game, forcing managers to keep relief pitchers in for at least three batters. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred saw it as a game-changer for young fans who wanted a faster-paced product. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if the rule would have saved baseball. OK, final question is from Jordan.”

“Yes, Mr. Fraley. I was wondering why sports teams allowed writers who didn’t even work for their websites or TV networks to cover them?”

“Well, Jordan, when newspapers existed, writers had the freedom to say whatever they wanted about the teams, players, executives and owners. That all ended with the virus. It was just a different era, I guess. I wish I could take more questions, but my time is up. Thanks for having me, Professor Rosenthal, and good luck to all of you in your careers in sports management.

“And remember: Stay inside.”

Paul Sullivan writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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