The game played in an empty Camden Yards on Wednesday was an ugly sight I hope we never see again. The decision that civic unrest in Baltimore this week would effectively create an unprecedented exercise in baseball futility is absolutely mind-blowing. But it may also end up as the best thing we fans could ever ask for.
Baseball, like anything else in this world, depends on public support in order to survive. If nobody drank Starbucks coffee, there wouldn’t be a store almost everywhere you look. Blockbuster Video went away not because people stopped watching movies at home, but because Redbox, Netflix and the Internet made visiting stores unnecessary. Without sales to paying customers, Blockbuster — and thousands of other businesses, large and small — had no reason to be.
Baseball dates back well over a century, but in the end it’s a business like any other. Seeing a baseball game without paying customers in the stands is a view into how we fans are the ones who make the game happen.
When the current CBA between players and owners runs out after the 2016 season, both sides will try to get all they can from each other in the next agreement. But as the lessons of the 1994 strike fade ever further into the past, we should all remember that the game itself belongs to neither the owners nor the players. It belongs to all of us who buy tickets and memorabilia and who watch the games on TV.
In more ways than we realize, the game’s survival hinges upon our collective assent. Will the two sides heed this reality when the time comes to strike the next deal? I hope so, because an empty stadium can speak louder than a sellout crowd, if we are properly attuned to its message.