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Tipsheet: No joy in Mudville as MLB imposes 60-game 'season'

Tipsheet: No joy in Mudville as MLB imposes 60-game 'season'

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So Our National Pastime is back, sort of.

Baseball players will report to Spring Training Part II next month, if health conditions permit.

There will be a 60-game “season” followed by a normal postseason, if health conditions permit.

With the COVID-19 still raging in parts of the country, all sports plans are tentative. The industry is reopening in fits and starts, making progress here and suffering setbacks there.

Who knows what next week or next month will bring?

If there are baseball games, some players will elect not to play under these makeshift conditions. Why risk illness or career-threatening injury for a fraction of your pay?

Waiting for a vaccine and the chance to play a real season for full pay will sound more appealing to many.

History will place a giant asterisk over whatever MLB results 2020 produces. The World Series, if there is one, will produce a tainted champion.

The tiresome labor skirmish between MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association czar Tony Clark will continue.

So Monday’s development did not elicit applause from the pundits. Here is a sampling of their dim assessments:

Tom Verducci, SI.com: “Welcome to a shotgun marriage of a baseball season in which neither side won. I have thought that a return to play could absolve the two sides of their bickering – that a sprint season and expanded prime-time postseason at a time when television and movie studios cannot generate new content would make these past two months of animosity fade away. I am not sure now. The atmosphere is that toxic . . . The players effectively decided the right to challenge the owners with a grievance that they did not bargain in good faith was more valuable than those benefits. The players could claim about $1 billion in damages on games lost. Such a procedure could take years and engender even more distrust, with an unpredictable outcome. But the mere threat of it has been an important hammer for the union to retain. The players get their 100% prorated pay and keep their grievance threat. The owners get their short season in (mostly) empty ballparks. But neither side gets the benefit of an expanded postseason or any momentum for the sport. With leaks and statements (sotto voce dialogue: ‘We want to play.' 'We want to play more) both sides seem to be trying too hard to win PR wars while their house is on fire. They don’t understand that the average fan doesn’t care about gamesmanship. The fans only want live sports to come back. As other sports do come back or at least plan to do so without such public acrimony, baseball suffers. Unofficially, we now have seen the end of 25 years of labor peace in baseball, which has been the single biggest driver of revenues in the game’s growth.”

Bob Nightengale, USA Today: “Who knows, maybe it was all a wasted exercise, and the pandemic will shut things down once they’re all together? Maybe COVID-19 will continue to pitch a no-hitter and make sure that no sport starts, even with baseball being a non-contact sport. But they will at least try, trying to put aside all of the bitterness and hostility, that left baseball fans screaming into the night. It’s a shame that amid a pandemic raging across the world, with a country trying to finally change 400 years of racial injustice, the two sides never came close to a resolution. The 38-members executive board of the union voted 33-5 not to accept MLB’s proposal of 60 games early in the day. The deal also included $25 million in a playoff pool this year, $33 million in forgiven salary advances, and an expanded postseason from 10 teams to 16 teams in 2020 and 2021. There finally will be a season, but the acrimony sure has sucked the soul out of the joy of Monday’s announcement . . . Sure, there will be games, but there’ll be hostility. Gone are the expanded playoffs. Gone are the enhanced broadcasts. Gone will be anything but minimal cooperation. There will be grievances exchanged, with each side accusing each other of intentionally sabotaging negotiations. There will be players ripping owners. There will be owners ripping players. There will be players who may elect to sit out the season. There will be lower-paid players who actually will be playing for free the rest of the year considering they already received their $285,000 in upfront money, and will earn less with just 60 games remaining.”

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports: “The players union would view the past five weeks as owners stalling for just long enough to assure the season they claimed they could afford. The owners would view those lost weeks as the cost of doing business, the part they could afford, where they get their way in the end. Concluding more than a month of negotiations held amid a global pandemic and notable for their passive-aggressive statements, personal resentments and up-to-the-minute news leaks, baseball might finally be sneaking up on its when and where. Two more statements, one from each, filled the early evening, expressing regret that the other side would stand in the way at such a time . . . Players would receive full prorated salaries, so about 37 percent of their contracts if the commissioner calls for 60 games. Anything beyond that, the perks of an agreement — universal designated hitter for two seasons, expanded playoffs, greater financial compensation, among other items — was stripped away. This is how they’ll proceed. Unless, of course, they don’t open camps or the season, because it will be too treacherous, because they can’t agree on the important stuff after bleeding over the insignificant stuff, and don’t play those games, because after all the time spent wrestling each other for control of the 2020 season, Monday was also the day to concede it will not be up to any of them. They operate now into the headwind of the coronavirus, from a foothold that gives a little each time they dig in.”

Joel Sherman, New York Post: “Had the sides found the spirit of cooperation there would have been regular-season games on Independence Day weekend. But spring training activities will at least change the subject from labor to play. And the sport has never needed to change the conversation more. This dispute has been devastating to MLB’s image short and long term. So no hiccups of hostility now. There is nothing more important for the sides to do than finalize the protocols to be able to try to play with the most precautions possible in a pandemic. The time for a player grievance that is definitely coming is not in the short term — the union has 45 days to file a grievance that MLB did not act in good faith to try to play as many games as possible. Got it. This is not about ending the hatred. This is about putting it on hiatus for a bit. The parties have not been able to come together for the good of the game for months, even with the pandemic providing cover for concession and cooperation. No one knows if a baseball season could be played over an extended period in a country that still does not have a cohesive strategy for fighting COVID-19. But there was always going to be public understanding if the virus shut down this major league season. The sides cannot get this close to agreement and find reasons to fight again. In fact, this is a moment to be clear-headed. One of the player perks removed with implementation rather than an agreement was the universal DH for 2020 and ’21. But both sides should agree to use it in 2020. The pitchers are going to be working in a hurried, strange atmosphere just to get ready to pitch — amid a pandemic, by the way. It is in neither side’s best interest to put such valuable commodities at further risk. Better to have them just pitch this year.”

David Sheinin, Washington Post: “Despite the obvious acrimony between the sides, they still must hammer out the terms of the health and safety protocols, which are now more important and daunting than ever, with coronavirus case numbers spiking in several states that are home to major league teams. Last week, at least five players and three staff members of the Philadelphia Phillies tested positive for the virus, and USA Today has reported at least 40 players and staff members across the sport have tested positive. Among the bigger issues is how to deal with players — in regards to both pay and the accrual of service time, which determines when they are eligible for free agency — who decide to opt out of competing this season, either because of health risks or personal preference. Even some healthy players, including those whose wives are due to give birth, could balk at playing amid a pandemic for what amounts to around a third of their salary. Unlike other sports, MLB has been aiming to play its season with teams in their home stadiums — as opposed to a single-site, quarantined ‘bubble’ — which ratchets up the degree of difficulty when factoring in elements such as travel between cities and varied health restrictions from state to state.”

MEGAPHONE

“Today, the Major League Baseball Players Association informed us that they have rejected the agreement framework developed by Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark. Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development. The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new Postseason format.”

• Major League Baseball’s statement after imposing a 60-game season.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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