#MLB, union debacle may bring joyless season and uglier aftermath: Sherman

#MLB, union debacle may bring joyless season and uglier aftermath: Sherman

June 8, 2020 | 7:49pm | Updated June 8, 2020 | 7:54pm

What is being lost by major league owners and players is so much more than an 82-game season and wrapping themselves in wall-to-wall games on Independence Day weekend and potentially creating new fans starved for live games.

An already compromised season was going to provide MLB a hall pass to workshop extra innings that would begin with runners on base, pitch clocks, expanded playoffs, etc. to see what players, management and viewers liked and didn’t to try to grow an old game for new tastes.

May and June could have — should have — been a month to see the opportunity in the disaster of this baseball season. This was the moment to throw open to both sides an invitation to be creative — want to see a free pinch runner per game without taking the slower player’s bat out of the lineup? The 2020 campaign was the laboratory to experiment without committing to anything for the future. Just an open mind now.

That was going to take cooperation. Instead, May and June 2020 in Major League Baseball will be remembered for the sides making bad so much worse. These two parties see nothing the same. We are not talking apples and oranges when it comes to discussing the same issue. It is apples and dress shoes. This is a negotiation between one group that only speaks Urdu and another only Yiddish.

So there will be no Major League Baseball on July 4. MLB sent a proposal Monday to players that called for a 76-game schedule that would begin about July 10. A Wednesday deadline to accept was provided. If not, the number of games in the offers will go down because owners insist they will not play a regular season beyond Sept. 27.

Without a course correction — and how does that happen with the Urdu-Yiddish dynamic? — this is where we are heading: MLB will eventually reach a number of games for which it is willing to pay fully prorated salaries. That could be as few as 48, perhaps as many as 57-60. As part or the March 26 agreement, commissioner Rob Manfred controls the schedule as long as players are paid their full prorated salaries and the players would be obligated to show up — though the union will not even publicly concede that as the two sides continue not to be able to agree even about what they actually agreed on in their March 26, um, agreement.

A sad Yankees fan.
A sad Yankees fan.AP

Some players might not show under these conditions, sparking further hostilities between the sides if those players lose all claims to their salary and service time. But let’s say the vast majority do show, they will not do so in a cooperative mood. You can probably forget them wearing mics as a way to appeal to fans or doing anything beyond the mandatory. You can definitely forget them agreeing to expanded playoffs because that is inventory that the national TV partners will pay more for and the lion’s share goes to the owners.

Eventually their competitive instinct, self-interest to produce the best numbers possible for money and history and their fraternity with teammates will get them playing to their best. And if the sport is fortunate enough to conclude the World Series, we will get the one can’t-miss event of the season: how do the players react when Manfred tries to present a championship trophy?

And then what? If the sides couldn’t put aside historic mistrust and hostility now — amid both a pandemic and civic unrest following the murder of George Floyd — then we can count toward the lockout or strike coming with the collective bargaining agreement expiring after the 2021 season.

Think of all the baseball that might not be played from the beginning of this year until 2022. This has always been the great risk — even if you believe one or both sides are standing on principle — that they are fighting so hard for every 2020 dollar that they are failing to appreciate just how much they are going to lose in the future by dispiriting fans, many of whom are enduring tremendous economic hardship.

Of course, both sides are expressing that they are being reasonable. MLB made an offer Monday that would allow players collectively to receive 75 percent of their prorated pay if the entire postseason was played. Plus, MLB for the first time in four decades removed compensation picks tied to free agency as a way to add a perk to possibly make the 2020-21 offseason market more fertile for free agents. They saw this as compromises.

The union saw this as redressing previous offers in different clothing. That it still falls far short of the players’ demands for 100 percent of prorated pay.

MLB believes that powerful agent Scott Boras is manipulating the process behind the scenes. There are players and agents who believe the most hawkish owners are controlling MLB’s strategy because they would not mind not playing at all this season.

Just more apples and dress shoes, Urdu and Yiddish. The chance for a common language of compromise to try to present the best game and image now and try elements out for future growth have pretty much vanished. Maybe the union will counter by asking for more to help free agents and raise the minimum wage and gain more of an expanded playoff pool and stir productive negotiations.

Right, cue the laugh track. More likely we will continue to trudge toward a forced marriage and a joyless season of opportunities lost. The damages will be felt for years and just might prove irreversible.


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