The one public service that MLB and the Players Association have provided is instruction on social distancing during a pandemic.
Since the offers, counteroffers and insults have all been delivered electronically, the only threat is a computer virus. And any good tech with the correct software could prevent that.
It might be forgotten to time but the parties actually forged an agreement in late March and the groundwork for that pact was done largely through face-to-face meetings in Arizona. So why hasn’t that been tried again?
After all, both sides are positioning themselves to file grievances accusing the other of basically not acting in good faith. Won’t an arbitrator ask what good faith was there on either side if you never actually negotiated?
So before commissioner Rob Manfred resorts to a nuclear option — imposing a 50-ish-game season that will trigger those grievances and a joyless return to the field — how about he gets on his private plane, flies to Arizona and meets facemask to facemask with union executive director Tony Clark, who lives in that state. It is probably futile. The last time the sides had a teleconference negotiation it devolved into hostility.
But here is what must be remembered about the fallout from this: It does not belong to Scott Boras or Bruce Meyer or Dan Halem or Hal Steinbrenner. Manfred and Clark are the leaders. It is their job to steer this to the best outcome, and that best outcome cannot — CANNOT — just be about 2020 money. Because both sides have to see that this myopic pursuit is leaving such a distaste with fans and potential corporate partners. There is going to be so much that has to be rebuilt — think about the feeder system of players and fans that has been disrupted or worse by how little baseball is being played at any level due to the pandemic. How is any rebuilding done when all the two parties do is tear each other down? What other company would be so mutually destructive and expect consumers to be excited to reinvest passion and dollars?
Both parties insist that the nastiness has been galvanizing; I have had management people insist the 30 owners have never been so united and I have had union people say the same about the 1,200 players. The hope was that moderating forces would rise up and create a pathway to a deal. They either don’t exist or are cowed by the firebrands. So this is up to Manfred and Clark.
Could Manfred in a personal meeting explain his obstacles, and Clark the same? Could they find humanity? Again, probably not. The trust is so bad. The history so problematic. But don’t they have to try before an implementation step that both acknowledge would be dispiriting to all involved and promise only more altercations?
Manfred must take the first step. His office was literally created after the Black Sox scandal with the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, gaining power to act in the best interest of baseball. The March 26 agreement put Manfred in control of the 2020 schedule as long as players are paid their full game salary — a rare item in which both sides agree. So he can implement a season, but how would that be in the best interest of baseball?
Manfred’s side has insisted it needs the players to help subsidize its losses amid the pandemic, and let’s just say the optics are not great when word leaks that MLB has signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Turner. It is a reminder that owners have a long runway to make back lost money. Players do not. Manfred would have to be able to explain one-on-one with Clark why players should give back. It is his burden to make that case.
I have always thought the answer is in making the players whole in some way, whether it is tied to the postseason being concluded or paying the players over multiple years if owners needed cash flow now, or promising a legitimate way that the players could even get more than 100 percent prorated if revenues hit certain thresholds in 2020 and 2021 in exchange for less than prorated now. There is a negotiation that could lead to mutual benefits — better safeguard future free-agent classes, raise minimum wage, etc. — if they had found a way to actually talk and try to help each other.
The inability to rise to the moment stains both sides. Are you telling me people of goodwill that have the big-picture health of the game first could not discover pathways even at this late date to play 72 games this year in which players get their money, owners receive enough protections to make spending that money worthwhile and the spillover isn’t grievance, counter-grievance and sustained war drums toward the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement following the 2021 season?
Doesn’t Manfred at least have to get on the plane to see if this is possible? Doesn’t Clark at least have to host him to see if cooperation can replace muscle flexing? This is their negotiation. They really should meet facemask to facemask to see if human connection could be formed rather than everybody staying in their prescribed part awaiting a nuclear option.