This was going to be upbeat, even fun by now.
After the midweek news of that face-to-face meeting between the baseball commissioner and union leader — and (gasp!) even some “framework” for a financial agreement — we figured to be well on our way to making fun of what pitchers will do with all their gently used bats and what kind of ads will wind up on players’ uniforms under the new agreement.
A blue check mark and bird on the front and a “YuTube” patch across the back of baseball’s social media king, Yu Darvish?
Or how about a For Sale By Owner logo adorning the caps and shoulder patches of Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Jose Quintana and every other short-timer or big-contract Cub?
But there’s nothing funny about what we know about the plans of any sport’s return to play as we conclude the latest, biggest week in decades for Major League Baseball (talk about funny).
NBC Sports Philadelphia reported Friday that five players and three staff members working out at the Phillies’ spring facility in Clearwater, Fla., have tested positive for COVID-19, so far, and the Phillies have shut down that complex as they await the results of other members of the team who have been tested.
The Blue Jays and Giants also reportedly had players or staffers showing symptoms. And by the end of the day MLB had shut down all spring facilities in Florida and Arizona, including In Mesa, where Cubs players who lived in the area were allowed to work.
Additionally, reports Friday from the NHL revealed that at least three Tampa Bay Lightning players and Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews have tested positive, with the Lightning closing its Florida practice facility.
Cubs officials at multiple levels of the organization, by the way, have not responded to requests regarding how many, if any, known cases of COVID-19 they have among their players and staff.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the highest-profile infectious disease official in the country, said this week the NFL might not be able to pull off a season without a “bubble” this fall because of the risks of a second wave of the virus.
A bubble for 3,200 players, staff and other essential employees? What about the bubbles represented by huddles and the pileups involved with most tackles?
The “bubble” concept for MLB also reportedly is back in play, although where and how that might work is anything but clear, considering the bubble sites previously proposed — Arizona, and/or Florida, and/or Texas — all are now hot spots for the virus.
The president has called the coronavirus “the invisible enemy” of his warrior presidency. What’s clear is that it has become a silent enemy undermining every best-laid plan of every sports league in a nation that can’t agree state to state on whether it’s more important to heed the science and wear masks or to exercise our tough-guy American freedom to resist such shackles.
It’s been especially silent in the reports and public conversations associated with Major League Baseball — which is now poised to have its ugly fight over money during this pandemic reach even new lows amid this latest imposition of real-world news during labor squabbles.
There was a point reached this week when it never looked more certain that all major league sports might be playing again this summer.
And then with one hard, cold dose of reality it looks suddenly like it has never been more impossible to make that happen.
Earlier in the week, when MLB sent a letter to the union saying several MLB players and staff had tested positive, which could delay the season, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo tweeted in response: “Good timing.”
Good timing https://t.co/pbzIN3VWmJ— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) June 16, 2020
In fact, the timing of all the bad sports news on this side of the Pacific Ocean aligned with the restart on the other side of the Pacific of the Japanese major leagues — which just opened a 120-game season in stadiums without fans.
In this country?
By the end of the day Friday, the union issued a statement saying: “MLB has informed the Association that it will not respond to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games.”
The union, which is now deliberating its next step, had proposed 70 in response to MLB’s last proposal on Wednesday. Also included in that union counterproposal was an increased share of the revenue from expanded playoffs this year and next year — a provision one high-ranking official on owners side of the table said was a bigger problem for owners than the difference in the number of games.
These are historic times, no doubt — perhaps like nothing this country ever has faced, between the still spreading pandemic (120,000 deaths), record job losses and nationwide social unrest.
Not only is there nothing funny about any of it, but it looks like we’re running out of fun and games even in our fun and games.
And when it comes to baseball? All sides look more petty and out of touch with each day that passes as they haggle over money — none more than the billionaires running the league with the greatest ability to weather the financial storm long-term and to rule the day short-term from the public-relations high ground.
It may not ultimately matter if this still-raging first wave of the virus renders the second wave moot and sports remain on hold until next year.
But what’s certain if this status quo holds is that when the history of this moment is written, baseball will be the one American major league sport on the wrong side of it.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.