Even with tensions white-hot in the baseball universe, Andrew Miller remains an optimist.
“I think we’ll figure it out,” the former Yankees reliever, now with the Cardinals, told The Post on Thursday morning in a telephone interview. “I know the rhetoric out there is not in the greatest place in the last couple of days. The reality is it’s in the best interest for everyone to play. We want to put on the game for the fans.”
Miller serves on the same Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Subcommittee as Max Scherzer, the veteran Nationals pitcher who drew a line in the sand late Wednesday night with a tweet declaring that the players would not accept a further pay cut as they negotiate terms for a 2020 restart in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown.
“I think Max was pretty strong in his comments. The biggest thing I take away from him is he’s absolutely right about our strength, about us being on the same page,” Miller said. “We made a deal in March, and we want to stick by it.”
In late March, the players and owners agreed to a pact that protected both sides against the worst-case scenario of no season at all. That deal asserted that, if the campaign resumed, the players would receive a prorated portion of their pay, although the agreement also included separate language noting that the two parties would discuss the “economic feasibility” of playing games without fans, a factor that is in play now and will significantly impact the overall revenue. On Tuesday, MLB proposed a sliding-scale concept by which the players making the most money would suffer the largest cut. The PA ardently disliked that idea, as Scherzer indicated, and it intends to counter with an increase in games from 82 to about 110.
“We left spring training and headed to the agreement under the impression that both sides were telling each other that we wanted to play the greatest amount of games. There was mutual interest,” Miller said. “…We’re used to playing 162 games. We like to get as much of our paycheck as anybody else.
“The way that agreement is written is, the more games we play, the more we receive. After the initial talks, we think there’s room for more games and more opportunity to play.”
As badly as the players want to return to action, Miller said, apprehension lingers about the dangers of COVID-19, and the players’ top priority still is ensuring strong safety and health regulations.
“I think the general consensus is that we know there’s going to be risk, We’re not comparing ourselves to frontline health workers,” he said. “But we have families. We have kids. Some people may live with their parents who help take care of their kids. I don’t ever want to be responsible for getting someone else sick.
“We have players with real medical conditions, whether it’s asthma or other pre-existing conditions. We need some answers. There are a lot of experts working on this.”
Daily testing, as opposed to multiple tests per week, could help and perhaps loosen some of the much-discussed restrictions that the owners proposed, Miller said, although it’s not clear whether MLB could access that many tests without compromising the public supply. The 35-year-old, who lives in Florida, said he hadn’t yet decided whether he’d take his family with him to St. Louis for a season given the risks of travel.
Asked if he could see some players not participating in this season for reasons either medical or financial, Miller said, “I hope to see everybody on the field, but there is a chance some guys have medical concerns that are too great, although I don’t have any specifics on that.”
The players understand that they get little sympathy from fans during collective-bargaining sessions, particularly on the economic front. Miller stated that when players battle over dollars as they currently are, they’re honoring both the history and the future of the PA, widely regarded as the strongest in any North American sport. Every agreement carries consequences, and Miller acknowledged the slippery slope that could emerge from making too many concessions now.
“It’s not necessarily about us getting a certain amount. It’s about doing things the right way,” Miller said. “We’re not saying that we’re heroes making sacrifices or something like that. The world economy is shattered. We get that. Our goal is to get back on the field, and in our home cities, and bring back some positive energy.
“But I don’t want guys to look back and say, ‘Look at what they did.’ We don’t want to be the ones who mess it up.”
They won’t, he believes, not in giving up too much nor in shutting down the whole operation.
“If we let something like this derail it, it’s going to be a hard sell to our fans,” Miller said. “It’s unfortunate this has become so public, but it’s our job to respond and find that middle ground. And I think we’ll get there.”