Hopes of a deal dashed again, MLB restart negotiations look petty as coronavirus surges

These are the factions that one morning will awaken to hundreds, even thousands, of men and women gathering to play ball and beat back the virus. At the same time. These are the factions that are to present the game as a good thing, a happy thing, a carefree thing, against the backdrop of a lot that isn’t.

This is the $50 billion industry of soaring franchise values and $20 beers that couldn’t overlook the last $200 million, or 1/250th of that. These are the factions that run the game to the last penny, as long as it is theirs.

Instead, in the fifth week of negotiations for a nine-week season, nearing what would have been the halfway point of a baseball season flattened by pandemic, yet another statement arrived from New York.

This, from the Players Association: “MLB has informed the Association that it will not respond to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games. Our Executive Board will convene in the near future to determine the next steps. Importantly, Players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”

These are the factions that will have little choice but to trust each other one day, when the accountants are gone but the virus is not, when what is important is waking up one morning without a sore throat.

On the assumption everyone still wants to play baseball, and then on the premise the virus would allow it anyway, Major League Baseball and the players union had their negotiations over the 2020 season come to a standstill Friday night.


Six days after the players association notified the owners it would no longer participate in labor talks, then relented, the league told the union it would not respond to its latest offer, and if this is how the sausage is made maybe it’s time to go plant-based.

The owners’ most recent proposal, the one they said they believed had bridged an economic and acrimonious divide, the one commissioner Rob Manfred convinced owners to make, the one union chief Tony Clark ultimately turned down, was this:

A season of 60 games, beginning on July 19 or 20 and ending Sept. 27, full prorated salaries for the players, expanded postseason and a mutual waiver of potential grievances.

MAY 19: An official Rawlings Major League Baseball for the 2020 Major League Baseball season showing the red stitching and markings and the signature of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on the19th May 2020 (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Another week of negotiations to restart Major League Baseball's season ended where it started: Nowhere near an agreement. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Under those terms, spring facilities would have to open in about a week-and-a-half. So, with time dwindling and the virus regaining traction, and with early-week optimism being dashed over what sort of vibe actually constitutes an agreement, the owners and players seemed destined Friday night for an unsatisfactory conclusion.

The players could vote to accept the terms of a 60-game season and perhaps wrangle a couple more games from the owners, along with the terms of a deal Manfred thought he’d made in Arizona on Tuesday night. They could reject that deal and return to their “when and where” posture, an action that likely would force Manfred to impose the terms of a season on the players and perhaps expose the league to future grievances. In that event, the league believes the union is prepared to seek as much as $1 billion in lost salaries, claiming the owners violated the terms of a March 26 agreement written, in effect, to avoid all this.

And as the negotiations trudge on, as another statement is made, as positive coronavirus tests bring another closure to another baseball facility, the smaller it all seems. The smaller they all seem.

They must know that. They must understand what is being lost, and also not care.

There is opportunity to reach a compromise, then to play a season that isn’t anything more than an extension of an old, rotten relationship. It’s a narrow opportunity. Perhaps the baseball can be spirited, in spite of the empty ballparks. Perhaps, at some point, they can open the doors a crack, let a few people in. Perhaps the virus finds another path, and a 16-team October is kind of a hoot — a mad, chaotic ride that was fun to try once.

The problem in any case, though, is nobody will forget how we got there. That first they had to drag each other to exhaustion. That first they had to tear each other to pieces over the shortest baseball season in history, the one everybody sort of needed, and the one where they should have been taking care of each other.

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