For a while, as Major League Baseball and its players association argued over a collective bargaining agreement, it looked as if the 2022 baseball season might not happen.
The negotiations were complex, centered mainly on money. MLB imposed a lockout in December and canceled the first two series of the regular season on March 2. But on March 10, the league and players association agreed on a new contract.
After the players approved the deal, the owners ratified it with a 30-0 vote, officially bringing the three-month lockout to a close, according to MLB.com. The 2022 season is slated to begin on April 7, about a week later than usual.
“I know all pro sports are big business, but for billionaires and millionaires to be fighting it seems like there should be more at stake than their personal greed,” said Bill Higgins, former sports editor of the Cape Cod Times. Higgins followed baseball and golf, his two favorite sports, throughout his 30-plus-year career.
“I don’t think the players are being greedy but there’s this ‘We have to win’ element to this,” said Higgins. “It can’t be win-win. There’s such a lack of trust between the players and the owners. I don’t know how you solve it.”
The issues of the majors are not going to affect the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL), the top amateur summer league in the country. The Cape League gets its players from college teams before they’ve entered the minor league system, and long before they reach “the Big Show.”
The lockout “doesn’t affect us directly, thank goodness,” said CCBL Commissioner Eric Zmuda. “The college players are looking forward to the summer.”
The Cape League does receive some funding from MLB; the rest of its funds come from sponsorships and donations, Zmuda said.
“That doesn’t stop,” he said.
A longer major league lockout might even have helped the Cape League. More people might have been inclined to travel to the Cape and attend summer games here if there were no professional baseball games.
After Covid-19 caused the cancellation of its 2020 season, the Cape League resumed play last summer with a somewhat altered program. This summer, Zmuda said, the league will go back to a full schedule of 44 games per team. Eight of the 10 teams in the league will make the playoffs.
The league’s Covid testing policy will be a bit less strict this year, but a mandatory vaccination policy is in place for players who don’t have an approved exemption.
A Slow Game
Baseball fans have complained in recent years that the pace of the game is too slow, and America’s Pastime may be losing out with the younger generation.
There are more pitching changes these days, pitchers take longer to set up between pitches, and the analytics of the game have changed with the effect of increasing the prevalence of both strikeouts and home runs.
“From a romantic point of view, I still love the game,” said Higgins. “But it’s very frustrating what’s happened, both off and on the field. As much as I love it, I can’t sit there for three and a half hours just to watch strikeouts and home runs.”
According to the Baseball Almanac, in 2021 there were 5,929 home runs in the league, compared to 4,552 a decade earlier. The number of strikeouts grew to 42,025 in 2021 from 34,489 in 2011.
That means having runners on base, a big part of baseball action, is less frequent. And younger people’s attention spans appear to be shorter, likely thanks to technology.
Unlike the NBA or the NFL, Major League Baseball hasn’t successfully catapulted its stars into the social media age. Young people look for their favorite athletes on social media more than ever; some prefer watching highlights to a live game. But baseball’s stars don’t have as much appeal on social media platforms as basketball and football players.
On the Cape, though, the summer league is a nostalgic experience that you won’t find anywhere else and one that young families consistently turn out to watch.
“I think with any sport you see ebb and flow,” Zmuda said. He admitted that baseball has been on the front pages for the wrong reasons lately.
“The college programs keep on rolling, and we’re happy to be a part of that,” he said. “If you’re a baseball fan, you really just want to see baseball. It’s always great to get out to the ballpark.”