An official Australian Baseball League baseball

A Lost Season Down Under

With each passing day, American sports fans are inundated with the fact that life has moved on. Coronavirus was a thing and now it really isn’t a thing any longer. Sure, it’s still around and people are still getting sick and dying in massive numbers, but it’s not a thing anymore, ya know? A key part of the American psyche, at least the one we are told that we have by the powers that be, is that the wheels keep on moving. Capitalism and the everyday machinations of American life can’t be stopped by some stupid virus, who cares how many die in our rush to bring back whatever we are calling normal this week.

This isn’t true all over the world, though it is true in some other countries. I don’t live in those countries, I live in the United States of America and watch baseball from other countries. I’m not impacted by those countries returning to normal in the same way I am America returning to normal. Then there are the moments such as this past week when something big happens that reminds me just how much we are not back to normal and are just fooling ourselves and feeding into the capitalist machine by trying to pretend as if anything has drastically changed from a year ago other than our now overt willingness to let people die.

The big event in this instance is the Australian Baseball League announcing that they have canceled the 2021-2022 season and will not take the field again until the 2022-2023 season. As an American, the news dropped for me in between calls at my station around 3 am the other night. I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and had to do a double-take at the announcement. No ABL season this year would be a huge blow to the baseball world on many levels so there was no way that was actually being announced. Inevitably I clicked on the link and found out that, yes, the upcoming ABL season had been canceled. What a sad, sad day for international baseball.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the announcement from the ABL and Baseball Australia chief executive Glenn Williams. First and foremost is the obvious, no baseball in Australia (New Zealand already knew they would not have pro ball this year due to the Auckland Tuatara announcing they would sit out the season a couple of months back). To say that Australia is at a delicate stage when it comes to its growth is an understatement. They have been on their own and free from the powerful guidance of Major League Baseball for a few years now. The league had made great strides since their breakaway from Rob Manfred and company. They had seemed poised to take the next step last year then COVID hit and all their plans were ripped to shreds. This year was supposed to get things back on track and now it’s not happening at all.

Baseball isn’t the most popular sport in Australia, but the ABL had been going about building their league and fanbase in a very smart fashion. They have now essentially lost two whole years (yes, they did play last year but it was a season so affected by COVID that it was almost the same as not having played) due to circumstances well beyond the control of the league or anyone from Baseball Australia. There’s no way to recoup the lost momentum or interest that has come from these colossal setbacks.

American unaffiliated summer league players are also going to be hurt by this announcement. Many of them supplemented their summer earnings by catching on with an ABL team over the winter. The other winter leagues throughout the Americas remain an option, but with the ABL now out of the picture that makes the open roster spots few and far between. Who is to say this won’t have lasting repercussions either? Maybe because of this we will see the influx of these players die down when the ABL does come back and the overall talent level of the league will suffer as a result? This will undoubtedly lead to less interest in the league and help to further destabilize a league that is, for all intents and purposes, hanging on by a thread at this point.

The reality is that the Coronavirus is still a thing. It’s a deadly and nasty thing that hasn’t gone anywhere and doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. Decisions are still being made based on the presence of COVID that can, and will, lead to further issues down the road. Canceling the season is a risky gamble, one that may not pay off in the end as far as the health of the league is concerned. There exists the very real possibility that the ABL never recovers from this and that baseball in Australia takes a bunch of huge steps backward because of the cancelation. Will this cancelation help to combat COVID? I’m not a scientist and can’t answer that question, but if it does help in any way then canceling the season will end up being the right move.

There’s no villain in this scenario beyond a virus that continues to ravage the globe. If the ABL ends up being not just a temporary victim but a long-term casualty of the damage wrought by COVID then the global game of baseball will suffer immensely. Baseball in Australia once had a bright future, but COVID has made it hard to see beyond the encroaching darkness of the possible bad outcomes from this missed season. The Coronavirus hasn’t left and the world at large and baseball world specifically sure as hell isn’t back to normal.

Editor’s Note: After this article was scheduled to be published reports started circulating that five of the six teams had worked out an agreement for the 2021-2022 ABL season to take place. Those initial reports have resulted in a muddy sea of rumors where it’s hard to see the truth amid all the conflicting reports. What can be honestly reported is that some owners and people in the know about the ABL allege that there was a workable plan to salvage the season in place and that one team scuttled said plan (though even the identity of this rogue team has been different at various times in the reporting). At the same time, the ABL has released official statements saying that none of these reports are true and that there was never any plan to save the season either put forth or agreed to by any member clubs or the league. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but I’m a writer, not an investigative reporter and that means you’ll have to find that truth from another source.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Australian Baseball League

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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