There are few things commissioners of professional sports leagues can say to really insight panic. They are, in general, long-winded older figureheads who say a lot and say nothing at the same time. However, when David Stern, the commissioner of The NBA, said that he wanted to cut player salaries in the league by a third, people took notice. He later followed up those statements with threats of contraction. His actions earlier this week put one word in the mind of millions of basketball fans, "lockout."
While it seems a daunting future, these things do happen. The NBA locked out in 1998, and the MLB in 1994, however what makes this labor dispute so much more potent is that it seems almost a certainty that the NFL will also have a lockout in 2011. That would put the sports world without any professional sports action (unless you count hockey, but come on) between November 2011 and May 2012. Sure, sports fans will have the College Football season shortly followed by March Madness and before you know it, we're at Spring Training again, but not even this baseball purist believes that even he could stand such a future.
It has always struck me as odd that owners would let their leagues go to a strike or a lockout, especially after the 1994 baseball strike. The league was so damaged that summer, and many feel it still hasn't recovered. It wasn't the lost revenue or the botched television deals that did the sport in, but the hurt feelings of the fans who for the first time felt slighted by the selfishness of the players and owners who all-to-often forget they are playing a game. In 1998 the NBA did recover better from the lockout than baseball did in 1994, however a large part of that is likely because sports fans had the NFL to turn to, where in the summer of 1994 there was literally nothing else for sports fans to read the morning paper for.
A sports-less winter of 2011/2012 is certainly a scary thought indeed, and may even further push those "World Will End In 2012 Rumors," however Bud Selig and the rest of the MLB owners have to be licking their chops at the opportunity to take back a sports market that hasn't been theirs in decades. America loves football, commercialism loves basketball, middle-aged men and a select few sons love baseball. Could that all change in 2012? It would seem so, that with football and basketball out of the way the biggest star athletes would have to be Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum, hell, maybe even Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
The opportunity to regain the title of National Pastime is clearly there, the question is, will baseball be able to take advantage of it? Baseball has its own problems holding it back. Fans are still alienated by superstars who took steroids, some owners are villainized by their cities for lack of funding, and questions of officiating have fans calling for major structural changes in the game. Even with these obstacles though, a betting man has to like baseball's chances of surpassing at least the NBA in 2012, if not the NFL too.
This opportunity may best help our very own Washington Nationals who are currently in a clear fourth place in a four team battle for media attention. The Redskins will always be Washington's darling, and the Capitals will be hard to overcome too, but with the Redskins and the Wizards out in the winter of 2011-2012, and the Nationals looking to take baseball by storm in 2012 with the emergence of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper it could be the perfect time to win this city over. If the Nationals put together a playoff run in 2012, it could be the perfect storm needed for them to get fans out to the Navy Yard and for the Nats to find their own way into Washingtonians hearts.
This may be the first time in recent memory that the MLB can go into the offseason feeling confident about their future, while executives of the NBA and NFL have to sit and wonder.