Congratulations, Baseball, you’ve done it again.
You’ve managed to combine ugly optics with bad timing for the worst look among the country’s major league sports leagues during a time of national crisis.
Pulling up in the rear among all the leagues coming up with a plan to play what’s left of a 2020 season, it took the commissioner using his power to impose an abbreviated season to even do that much after MLB and the union failed to reach agreement on financial terms.
Just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to wipe out major sports across the country?
We can only hope the dozens of reported positive coronavirus tests across baseball, hockey and football in the past week don’t signal that extreme outcome.
But Major League Baseball already has at least temporarily shut down every team’s spring training facility in Florida and Arizona, two states experiencing significant spikes in cases.
If they can yet pull off a season, it will involve no more than 60 regular-season games, none of the expanded playoffs built into the proposal players rejected in a vote Monday and have teams conduct their Spring Training 2.0 in their home cities — except, perhaps, the Toronto Blue Jays, who could be forced to share another team’s site because of Canadian travel restrictions.
And even if the virus cooperates, there’s still the matter of the players being asked to agree on two stipulations. In a statement released Monday night, MLB gave the union until 4 p.m. (CT) on Tuesday to sign off on players reporting to “spring training” July 1 and on the health and safety protocols in its “Operating Manual” provided to the union weeks ago.
MLB statement: pic.twitter.com/Jz3rSTvXuU— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 23, 2020
It’s possible the protocols could be in reasonable need of a tweak or two given the new landscape of risk. But now that players have been given their #WhenAndWhere answer, they’re expected to agree to play.
Either way, the nagging question persists:
This is what we’ve all been waiting for all this time?
For all 88 days since the sides reached agreement on basic financial parameters? For all 42 days since MLB reopened talks with its first detailed proposal, including the health protocols?
For all the downtime between counterproposals and all the six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other salary proposals by owners in seeking cuts beyond straight pro-rata pay?
For crying out loud, these guys put almost as few pitches in play the last three months as they did the last time a game was played.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer might have provided the best 50-word summary of baseball’s public image in a tweet after the union vote Monday night:
“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid-19 already presented a lose, lose, lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”
While there’s certainly room for some blame on either side, Bauer is generous with his “both sides” take, considering the owners always were in position to best weather the financial storm and make a season happen without asking the players taking all the health risks to take deeper cuts beyond pro-rated pay.
The owners have enjoyed record revenues and equity growth for nearly two decades, and have years more to recoup losses compared to players, yadda, yadda, yadda.
With their no vote Monday, players reserved the right to file a grievance over a negotiating process they might claim was kicked like a can so far down the street as to allow no time left to play 100 or more games — a grievance that could put close to $1 billion at stake for the owners.
And does anyone still remember, this all comes on the heels of the Astros’ historic cheating scandal and the commissioner’s subsequent reference to the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal”?
Meanwhile, the virus threatens to make all of it moot.
Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish — the first MLB star to raise concerns over the emerging pandemic back in spring training — tweeted concerns again over the weekend about all the positive tests being reported.
Will he choose to opt out of playing? Will any number of other high-profile players with enough financial security and/or star power?
Of course, none of that matters if continued outbreaks stop any or all the major sports leagues from pulling off their plans, leaving many fans with perhaps at least small comfort and solace of best intentions and best effort.
Or, in the case of baseball fans, another piece of whatever the commissioner wants to call this.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.