Max Scherzer gathered the kids and came up to Washington this week because there was finally a reason to do so.
Wednesday marked the opening of Spring Training 2.0. Friday, the first baseball workouts since the sport came to a hard stop March 12 are scheduled to take place. July 23 is expected to be Opening Day. Baseball, at least in framework, is back.
Which is why Scherzer returned to the District. He remained in West Palm Beach, Fla., after organized baseball stopped. Workouts happened six days a week thanks to a throwing partner and bands and weights taken from the minor-league side of the spring training facility before it closed. He typically does not have a home gym to use. But, he found a way to manipulate things in Florida in order to stay on track month after month.
As a member of the union’s eight-person executive subcommittee, he also spent a lot of time involved in the negotiations -- “sparring” is a more accurate word -- between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. The process dribbled into the public, caused myriad eye rolls, and generally left everyone dissatisfied. In the end, the original agreement from March 26 was adhered to. A short season is coming. Two brutish winters will follow.
“I think at the forefront [of negotiations] was hey, we had an agreement, we wanted to honor that,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday. “There was no reason we thought to make a separate deal because we made a deal after the pandemic had started. For us, it was about trying to execute that deal as best as possible.”
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Why did it take three grouse-filled months to arrive at a place they were already at?
“Because the business of the game is never pretty,” Scherzer said. “It’s always ugly. If it ever gets into the public, it’s always going to be ugly, and obviously it did get into the public. There’s nothing we can do about that. There’s never just an easy fight about the business of the game. It’s always going to be testy, it’s always going to be like that. The best thing we can do is keep that out of the public, but unfortunately, that’s not what happened.”
Scherzer was moved enough by the head-butting dynamics to send three tweets. He so rarely uses his official account to reach its 322,997 followers, he had to reset his password so he could login.
But, the only result of a public debate was a distaste for the process. Especially amid a pandemic and country-wide protests. Squabbling over money benefited no one.
At first, health was the prime point of the negotiations. How would the league protect the players? Would the players accept the protocol and risk? Did anything else matter if optimum protections were not in place? What, exactly, was everyone dealing with here?
Those concepts seemed to fade, usurped by a debate about money. The coronavirus pandemic hit a lull, then rebooted, and is now rumbling through Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and other states in a way it was not before. Accordingly, health returned as a paramount discussion point between the sides, and a question was finally addressed: should there even be a season?
“I think the ‘should be’ question we were trying to wrestle with was just to make sure that we can put on a league and really feel confident that we were going to be safe,” Scherzer said. “And the foremost answer to that was the testing. Make sure that if we were getting tested at a high enough frequency, it really clears a lot of big hurdles out of the way for us. The testing, as good as it is, it’s not perfect. So, it’s also going to take protocols by players themselves on and off the field to make sure we can continue to play baseball in the safest way possible.”
It wasn’t safe enough for some. Joe Ross and Ryan Zimmerman decided they would not play this season.
“I respect their decisions,” Scherzer said. “This is a personal decision for everybody. I understand where they are coming from. So, at the end of the day, I get it. This is a nasty thing that’s going around. For some people, the comfort level is just not there and I respect it. For the guys who do choose [to play], that’s great. And we’ll just have the team go forward and try to win this year.”
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Scherzer said he never considered not playing. Instead, he will be at the park to be tested, try to build his innings (he says he has a couple in him now and will be “ready to compete” when the season starts), and manage an uncertain situation as best as possible. There is nothing normal coming up. Understanding that becomes crucial.
“It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be difficult,” Scherzer said. “We’re going to say that every single day. So, just get used to it and realize every team has to go through that. That’s what it’s going to take to win the World Series this year. A team that can battle through this together and make sure they do the protocols the best way possible and keep their team healthy seems to have the best chance to win.
“I think at the end of day, that’s what we’re all signing up to do, to continue to play baseball and we’re very fortunate to continue to play baseball in the middle of this pandemic. A lot of people have done a lot of work to make this happen. So it’s our duty to go out there and play baseball at the highest level possible.”
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