With the sports world reeling from the coronavirus-induced shutdown, baseball had a priceless opportunity: a Grand Canyon-sized window to return to the field before its major competitors and stage a triumphant return around the Fourth of July.

But baseball has squandered that chance and is now struggling to reach any kind of deal at all. Team owners and the players’ union remain deadlocked in a bitter labor standoff over how to appropriately divide billions of dollars in a pandemic-shortened season. The possibility of playing on Independence Day is gone.

So, too, is baseball’s opportunity to serve as a positive part of the national recovery process at a time of historic crisis. Rather than rekindling its dwindling fan base, this increasingly hostile conflict now threatens to impart lasting—and perhaps irreparable—damage to an industry waning in influence and popularity with younger audiences.