Baseball, by any reasonable standard, is more popular than it has ever been. Part of this is simply the quality of play. With the growth of the international game and with the influx of superbly talented Latin and East Asian players, the talent pool is bigger than in the past.
But part of it is the fact that there isn't the threat of a work stoppage hanging over every other season. The players and the owners are no longer incessantly sniping at each other. Once, the two sides seemed to the general public to be sworn enemies. Now, the two parties are publicly pals. This is good. It allows baseball fans to focus on the games rather than the arguments.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association will stretch through 2011. That means that labor peace will have governed the game for 16 straight years. The previous record was more like 16 minutes.
So when the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, refers to this era, as he often does, as "the golden era of baseball," a big part of the shining quality of this era is labor peace.
In an interview with MLB.com, the commissioner expanded upon the importance of achieving, and maintaining, labor peace in baseball.
"We had an attendance record for the third straight year," Selig said. "You know my love of history, so I take this all the way back, and even when I compare it to 15 or 20 years ago, this is stunning -- the average team drawing 2,535,000. Revenues up over $5.3 billion. Unheard of, the sport's never been more popular.
"There are a number of reasons. One of the primary ones is labor peace. We killed ourselves for years, the hatred between the parties, the daily columns about the owners and about the commissioner and about the players, and owners mad at players, and owners mad at the commissioner and players mad at the owners. That's history.
"I've often said to the clubs: 'When we can focus on the field, we'll do great, we'll do brilliantly.'
"[The importance of] labor peace cannot be overstated. This issue did us damage there from 1972 through 1995. It was brutal. Eight work stoppages and a lot of damage in between.
"I had been chairman of the Player Relations Committee, so I knew how bad things had been. But I remember saying over and over, 'It just can't go on like this.' I understand how fans feel. I was a fan. I still am a fan at heart, in a lot of ways.
"Fans just don't want to read about [labor problems]. All the confrontations between the owners and the players served just to poison all the waters around us so badly. And this sport was stuck in neutral for too long."
When it comes to labor relations, the game is now in a forward gear. The new CBA was negotiated without a hint of discord. In fact, as far as public discussion, it was practically negotiated without a sound. This was the other end of the spectrum from the constant, bitter, public disputes that previously characterized the process.
But it wasn't only that. For instance, MLB and the union worked in total harmony to create the first World Baseball Classic. This event was not just a success. It was a transcendent display of the international growth of baseball. And it couldn't have happened without baseball labor and management working in concert.
When fans are allowed to focus on the field, instead of labor debates, baseball is a different game, a better game. Whatever else happens, plus or minus, baseball fans can be assured that the bad old days of labor discord, strikes, lockouts and festivals of finger-pointing will not return any time soon.
"Labor peace now, it's going to be 16 years," the commissioner says with obvious satisfaction.
No, it isn't quite peace on Earth. But it is labor peace in the grand old game's portion of the planet.