Rob Manfred did what he did not want to do, but had to do. He told the players where and when. The commissioner implemented a season that will be 60 games if the union by 5 p.m. Tuesday signs off on health and safety protocols, and agrees to show up to spring training on July 1.
There has been a lobbing of a pressurized tennis ball from one court to the other, forcing action or reaction by the players or the owners with each new offer or counteroffer or loaded statement. Manfred had one hit at him Monday. He wanted to reach an agreement, but the union rejected MLB’s plan built around a 60-game season with prorated pay and other bells and whistles.
So as badly as he did not want to implement, Manfred did so at 60 games — taking away the bell and whistle perks.
So now it is time to put away tennis balls and replace them with, “Play Ball!”
For we know the where: mainly each team’s home stadium. And now we know the when: spring training 2.0 next Wednesday. It is imperfect. 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.
The players now will not wear on-field microphones to enhance the TV broadcasts for the owners. But is this really just a perk for the owners? When we have heard players on the field during games it has often shown humanity and senses of humor and camaraderie. This raises the profile of the players at a time when players can use such a bump. I would think the microphones would be even more popular with the players considering that there will be no fans and crowd noise.
And, who knows, maybe agreeing on a few mutually beneficial elements even at this late date could lead to an overall accord and avoiding those grievances and … OK. that is probably a fantasy world considering the animus between the sides.
For now, let’s have the players prioritize getting across the goal line on protocols that have been close to finalized for weeks. Let’s have the players begin the trek back toward camp. Yep, we are going to have to keep our eyes open for if disgruntled players decide not to participate in a shortened season. Of course, these are owners and players so we would be ridiculous to blindly believe the next 24-48 hours will go without a hitch.
But come on. Both sides have made their points. The fighting will resume soon enough — besides the grievances there is a collective bargaining agreement expiring after next season. For now — for once — rise above it for the good of the game. The players wanted to know where and when. They know. The owners did not want to go beyond 60 games. Done.
For the first time in a while baseball fans can actually begin to talk about baseball. We can begin the mental gymnastics of figuring out who is best situated to capitalize on a two-month regular-season sprint.
They are so close to changing the subject. Don’t blow it now.