Cheer the progress toward restarting baseball, but this was supposed to be the easy part

·MLB columnist
·4 min read

If we can maybe put down the Solo Cup roadies on the way to the baseball season pre-party for a moment.

The last month doesn’t just go away, much as we’d prefer otherwise, and the coming days are not insignificant.

Baseball did have itself a long overdue day on Wednesday. There was good news. People smiled. “When and where” sounded like something other than a response to, “Hey, wanna come be a soccer fan?

Commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark had met the night before in Arizona, where Clark lives, and by accounts had a perfectly civil meeting. On the next afternoon, Manfred was saying the two had a “jointly developed framework” that could possibly be “the basis of an agreement.” Presumably this means we’re back to being closer to “100 percent” sure there will be a season, though that could be prorated.

The precise location of a potential deal, between You Believed Twitter? and You Can Trust Ticket Brokers Again, depended on one’s source, and depends on what comes of that handshake when it returns to the hard-liners on each side. Those on the owner and union sides warned against over celebrating and shared their own guarded optimism.

[Timeline: How MLB’s negotiations to restart the 2020 season got to this point]

The cooperative conversation of Tuesday night — not a proposal, but the structure of a deal that you might actually call an agreement if it were left entirely to Manfred and Clark — would be presented to the players and owners. For a month correspondence between the parties had been delivered on the hilts of machetes, blind CC’d to favored media outlets, followed by news cycles of public insults and snark. Dignity returned to the proceedings in the middle of this week. You’d know the limp.

Negotiating a labor agreement into the mouth of a pandemic brought out the Gordon Gekko in most. At least a couple weeks of baseball were lost. Health experts seem to think there’ll be a time we’re measuring the length of a season by not weeks or days, but hours, so it’s not as though the game is running to daylight. It is, rather, threading a bagel with a pool noodle.

And this was the part they could control.

When and where, to borrow a phrase. For how much. With what rules. Under what protocols.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 9: A light tower is displayed as the Major League Baseball season is postponed due the coronavirus pandemic on April 9, 2020 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
If MLB and the players do indeed strike a deal they apparently made progress toward on Tuesday, they will still have the coronavirus pandemic to contend with. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

The tricky part comes in a couple weeks, assuming the part they could control that took more than a month to almost sort of control (pending the tidying of details and owner and player approval) leads to the opening of training camps by about July 1.

Remember, the virus is why we’re here. The virus is why camps closed and the season shrunk and a new agreement had to be drawn and the summer and fall will look the way they will. The virus is why management and players had to be in lockstep going forward. Their feet are tangled, they’re still dancing away from a potential billion-dollar grievance, and we haven’t even arrived at forward yet.

Wednesday was good. Rob Manfred did the right thing by getting on that plane. Tony Clark did the right thing by receiving him. Maybe they actually have a deal.

“I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today,” Manfred said in his statement. “Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”

This was more encouraging than the union’s only public statement, which sought to correct another Twitter landslide and also was pleasing in its brevity: “Reports of an agreement are false.”

The fair question is where was this cooperation weeks ago, and then if the sport can survive a real negotiation when that comes in a year or so. But, then, here we are. The events of Wednesday were in that way reasonable practice for what lies ahead, in that the game and especially its players will be asked to get through the days as they come. Read them as you will, good or bad.

It looks like they’re going to try to jam 60 games into a little more than two months, then 16 teams into a single postseason. It looks as though the players might be OK with that, and the owners might pay for that, and everyone will have a chance to take on a pandemic that probably cares little for a DH debate.

So, raise a tentative cup to the possibility they will play baseball this summer. Raise it to the idea that they will try. And, still, don’t forget that this should have been the easy part, and it’s not quite over yet.

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