A sport in desperate need of increasing the number of fans interested in it did nothing toward accomplishing that end early Thursday morning.
And two old, bitter rivals — Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, who even in the best of times view each other with heavy suspicion and mutual distrust — began publicly sniping at each other within hours of owners instituting a lockout at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after the parties failed to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.
"We hope that the lockout will jump-start the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time," commissioner Rob Manfred said in "a letter to baseball fans" that was posted on MLB.com. "This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions."
To the surprise of no one, union executive director Tony Clark held a different view.
"This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the Players’ resolve to reach a fair contract," Clark said in a statement. "We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership."
It marked the first work stoppage in the sport since the 1994 players’ strike, which canceled the ’94 World Series and led to a 144-game 1995 regular season.
In a morning news conference in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday — near where the two sides had been meeting since early in the week trying to reach a last-minute deal before the expiration of the previous CBA, signed in 2016 — Manfred referenced that strike.
"It really refers back to the 1994 experience," Manfred said. "If you play without an agreement, you’re vulnerable to a strike at any point in time. What happened in 1994 is the MLBPA picked August, when we were most vulnerable because of the proximity of the large revenue dollars associated with the postseason. We wanted to take that option away and try to force the parties to deal with the issues and get an agreement now, which is what we continue to believe is best for the fans."
It is important to note that, despite Manfred’s assertion that MLB owners were "forced" to lock players out, nothing legally compelled them to do so, even with an expired agreement.
In a separate news conference Thursday, Clark used the word "misrepresentations" in characterizing Manfred’s letter, adding: "It would have been beneficial to the process to have spent as much time negotiating in the room as it appeared was spent on the letter."
"It’s unnecessary to continue the dialogue," Clark said of a lockout, which Manfred said came out of a "desire to drive the process forward to" a deal, yet another area of disagreement between the two. "At the first instance in some time of a bumpy water, the recourse was a strategic decision to lock players out."
The sides remain miles apart on myriad issues, including when players can hit free agency (the players want it lowered from six years), the raising or lowering of the luxury tax on the highest payrolls, service-time manipulation (which can impact when a player reaches free agency), and player concerns over the number of teams they believe are "tanking" to secure better draft picks (MLB disputes that characterization).
There is much, much more, and the lone item both sides probably agree on regarding the already joined battle is that it likely will be a lengthy one, which could imperil the start of spring training in February and, perhaps, regular-season games.
Some players, all of whom are prohibited from working out at team facilities during the lockout, took to Twitter on Thursday.
Included in that group was Yankees righthander Jameson Taillon, who is rehabbing from surgery in late October to repair a right ankle tendon injury.
"Since MLB chose to lock us out, i’m not able to work with our amazing team Physical Therapists who have been leading my post surgery care/progression," Taillon wrote.
He continued, with an emoticon smile at the end: "Now that I’m in charge of my own PT — what should my first order of business be? I’m thinking I’m done with this boot. It can go."
At the moment, however, the sport is going nowhere fast.