Go ahead, celebrate. Just don’t get your hopes up.
But feel free to finally exhale and enjoy the moment.
But keep your guard up and don’t fall for anything.
How else is a rationale baseball fan supposed to react to the news of allegedly real, honest-to-goodness progress between baseball owners and players after commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark met for “several hours” Tuesday — face-to-face, no less?
“I believe it when I see it,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras tweeted after the news broke Wednesday.
Yeah, that’s how.
At the same time, it’s hard to imagine looking at the events of the past two days without finding at least a glimmer of optimism that a 2020 Major League Baseball season is on the horizon.
Because canceling the season never was really an option, anyway, right? No matter what the commissioner told ESPN on Monday before getting immediate and severe blowback and calling Clark to ask for the meeting.
But the union was quick to issue a six-word response amid breathless reports of progress and imminent accord: “Reports of an agreement are false.”
Reports of an agreement are false.— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 17, 2020
So take the latest news for whatever it’s worth. And take deep breaths, moments of meditation or shots of single-malt beverages to navigate the roller coaster ride until we see what results from the proposal that MLB delivered to the union on Wednesday.
And know that at least a few important questions (beyond “what took so damn long”) remain to be answered no matter what kind of “framework” Manfred and the union might be dealing with, even beyond MLB’s important first step of assuring full pro-rated pay to players for the season:
1. Does anybody remember the coronavirus? For all the rancorous, miserable, fraught talks and non-talks the past five weeks over economic issues, could it actually be possible that was always the easy part of pulling off a season — even starting one — this summer?
By the time talks turned especially contentious last month, the idea of safety protocols seemed at least straightforward, if not perfect. But since then, Florida, Arizona, Texas and Georgia — home to 20 percent of MLB — have experienced sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Because at least one leaked plan for the three regional divisions involves the Atlanta Braves joining the Midwest teams, all three regions could be exposed to these states’ heightened risks even with entirely intra-region schedules.
Not to mention the fact that Chicago’s two teams reside in the county with the most cases of any U.S. county — by more than a 10 percent margin over the second-hardest hit county (Los Angeles).
Reports already have surfaced in the last week that multiple players on 40-man rosters and at least one pitching coach have tested positive for the virus.
Keeping enough players and staff safe long enough to complete even a shortened season — never mind a 16-team expanded playoffs in October — suddenly looks far more daunting than it did even three weeks ago. Especially when Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force said Tuesday that MLB should “avoid” playing into October because of increased risk of a second wave anticipated this fall.
2. How many games is enough — few enough to give the owners the financial relief they seek and a large enough number to satisfy the players?. Never mind what it might take to make a regular season look legitimate — because that ship seems to have sailed.
The MLB proposal calls for 60 games in 70 days from July 20 through Sept. 27. That’s a few games more than the 48-to-54 that seemed likely when the idea of a unilaterally imposed schedule by the commissioner was implied last week. The players want as many as possible. Is anything more than 60 a non-starter for one side, anything fewer than 70 a non-starter for the other — or 65 an achievable middle ground?
Stay tuned, because …
3. MLB’s desire for the union to waive any potential grievance — with a possible $1 billion more in additional salary liability at stake — is a huge part of reaching a deal anytime soon.
And what the players might need in return for such a waiver could be equally significant — whether that’s a certain number of games over 60, additional levels of proposed playoff compensation or guarantees on compensation levels regardless of if or when an outbreak of the virus causes the league to shut down again.
These are just three of the big ones.
But then there’s the one nobody on the Cubs is lining up to answer:
Who’s going to be the guy big enough and tough enough to tell left fielder Kyle Schwarber he’s the Cubs’ designated hitter when the universal DH is installed for this year — and in the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement next year?
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