Is it possible to dawdle and sprint at the same time? Major League Baseball is working on it.
The first week of June is ticking to a close. Baseball does not have a plan for how to go forward. It has multiple points to bicker over, negative public comments floating about and an uncooperative calendar staring back.
It can also look left and see the NHL with a plan. To the right is the NBA with a plan. In between, baseball stands alone, petulant and being viewed as petty.
The hurdles of planning a season this week are the same as the week before and week before that. Society is wading through an undulating portion of history. But, the base issues for baseball still rest in revenue, health and games played, the latter an offshoot and driver for the two former.
Health: Progressively less has been discussed about this topic since MLB sent a problematic 67-page proposal more than two weeks ago. Requirements within the proposal ranged from no spitting to players sitting apart from each other in the stands. New baseballs, it said, were needed if multiple people touched one. Multiple coronavirus tests would be taken each week. Temperature tests would occur multiple times each day. On and on.
What the proposal lacked was daily testing. That’s an instant fail. It also does not include a punishment mechanism. If Max Scherzer licks his fingers on the mound, is he thrown out? Is a ball called? If someone accidentally high-fives a teammate, what then?
Players are also concerned about not having access to physical therapy devices such as hot and cold tubs. Weight room access is necessary, but must be spread out. Expansive logistical complications exist.
All of the protocols need to be repeated -- as safely as possible -- 1,215 times if the league plays an 81-game season. Opportunity for a season-crashing mistake is abundant.
Revenue: No one wants to hear about this. Not now. Unemployment skyrocketed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many workers who did not fully lose their jobs at least received a reduction in pay or hours. More economic complications are to come around the bend when companies assess their balance sheets in the remaining fiscal quarters of 2020.
Which makes this category a difficult public relations space for players. They want fans and others to understand multiple things: first, they are sensitive to the problems for the “average” worker; second, this is an employee-employer dynamic, even if it deals with eye-popping numbers; last, they foremost want to play and do their job, which is the underlying point of all of this.
However, their sympathy from the public will be limited if it exists at all. Baseball players -- who are operating in a league with a minimum salary of $563,500 --are financially unrelatable. The counter to that is they are paid according to the revenue created. This is flatly true. No owner is paying Scherzer $210 million because the money is not there. It is. The math works. It’s just too astronomical for any form of widespread understanding, let alone pity.
The current debate between players and owners will have ramifications now and in 2021, when the existing collective bargaining agreement ends. The players believe their 2020 salary negotiation and give has ended. The owners want further cuts to push back their pending losses from a shorter season without fans (Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to ESPN: “The league itself does not make a lot of cash.”). The players don’t trust the owners. The owners want to suppress the players’ wages. So, here they are, butting heads once again.
Games: The players suggested 114 games, the league did not technically counter, though it started a process to argue for a 50-game season. In between would be 82. It remains the most likely outcome if they are to play.
What is becoming more clear is baseball in November is unlikely. The owners have spoken with fervor on that topic in the same manner players have spoken about further salary cuts.
Here’s Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick during a radio appearance earlier in the week:
“We don’t want to take the risk of putting our players at jeopardy and our game in peril to be playing games beyond the end of October. So our model is and will never be changed that we will not be playing baseball in the month of November or later.”
Here’s Scherzer to NBC Sports Washington in late March:
“I think once you get into the playoffs in November, those games have to be at neutral sites. Playoff series at the beginning of November have to be neutral sites because you have to be able to guarantee weather. The teams in the north, once you get into November, the weather can be too cruel for baseball. So, this isn’t a permanent thing. But this is just what we have to do to be able to play baseball and try to get as many games in.”
Those are not the same ideas.
And, games may be the ultimate tether. When they increase, revenue increases. When they increase, risk increases.
For now, the schedule has zero of them. Same as last week. Same as the week before.
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