The White Sox or MLB don’t want a repeat of the last lockout

(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

Following a season in which the Chicago White Sox won the American League Central division and made the postseason for the second year in a row for the first time in club history, the team may find itself facing an even greater challenge than defending its title next season-provided there is a season.

The White Sox (and all other teams in MLB) may have to fight an uphill battle to bring fans back to the ballpark should the current lockout carry into the season. Major League Baseball’s lockout marks the first time since the 1994-95 strike season there has been a work stoppage.

Although no games have been canceled yet for the 2023 season, should that occur fans may take even longer to come back to the game than they did last time. The previous halt in play started on August 11th of ’94 when players went on strike.

It continued into the following season, costing MLB and its fans a chance to have a post-season, including the loss of the World Series for the first time since 1904. It took several years for fans to come back to the game when the strike ended in March of ’95 and baseball can’t afford to have that happen again.

In ’94, the White Sox were in first place in the division when the season ended were and considered by some to be a favorite to get to the World Series. The strike deleted that possibility and many pointed to Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf as being a major force in bringing the season to a halt.

The Chicago White Sox and MLB should both really hope for labor peace by the 2022 season.

The fallout from the strike was tough at the gate with the Sox going from an average of over 30,000 fans per game in ’94 to not having a season over 24,000 fans until 2000. Things were so bad that in 1998 and 1999, the Sox averaged a paltry 17,175 and 16,656 respectively. Also contributing was the Sox poor play on the field, having only one winning season from ’95 to 2000.

Ballparks didn’t see a return to normal in attendance until 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire made baseball fun again during their pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Their back-and-forth battle captivated the nation so much so that Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood said during his rookie year, “Those guys saved baseball.”

Fans seemed to have taken a “forgive and forget” attitude once the home run race got into full swing (pun intended), returning to ballparks to the tune of over 70 million in attendance in ’98.  Eventually, both McGwire and Sosa would eclipse Maris, finishing with 70 and 66 respectively, and baseball seemed to be back in the national consciousness in a positive way.

Those positive vibes were sullied a bit due to the steroid scandal but even that didn’t hurt the game as the strike did. The home run race was just what the game needed to get past the labor strife and reconnect with its fans.

This time around, however, baseball may be in a tougher spot. Should the lockout bring about a loss of games, it may take a longer time for fans to come back to the ballpark than it did before.  During the ’94-’95 season, fans found things to occupy their time during the summer that made baseball take a backseat when it returned.

With the popularity in the game waning amongst the younger crowd, MLB can ill afford to have it fall even further down the list of things youngsters can do for entertainment.  MLB’s lack of a social media presence right now with no “hot stove” talk or current player profiles is not helping keep the sport relevant, especially for a demographic it needs to connect with.

In addition to the labor problems, MLB still has to cope with the COVID-19 issue and not fall into similar situations the NFL, NCAA, NBA, and NHL are currently experiencing with games being postponed. MLB ran a 60-game schedule back in 2020 that led to limited fan attendance until June last season when ballparks began to reopen to full capacity.

The negatives lingering over the game right now cannot continue to the point it affects baseball starting on time. The league would have a hard time justifying to its fans not having its regular Opening Day take place for the second time in three years.

There is much work to do between the MLB and the Players’ Association to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. As of right now, no reports have surfaced as to when the two sides will get together and that is not a good sign.

Both sides need to get to the bargaining table as soon as possible because time is of the essence. The economic issues to be resolved will take more than a day to figure out and each day they don’t talk is another day closer to when pitchers and catchers are to report-or not report if no deal is reached.

Should nothing get done in time for baseball to start when scheduled, it will take more than another run at the home run record to get people back to and excited about the game again.

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