Progress is being made and the fate of the Major League Baseball season is becoming more clear.
Commissioner Rob Manfred flew to Arizona on Tuesday to meet with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. Their conversation, seemingly, was productive.
“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix,” Manfred in a statement. “We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
The gathering framework looks like this:
-- Opening Day should fall somewhere between July 15-20
-- The season will probably move toward 66 games or so
-- The players will receive their full prorated salaries
-- The postseason will include 16 teams this season and next
-- The universal DH will be used (and is likely here to stay)
-- Both sides agree not to file a grievance
-- The regular season ends Sept. 27
-- The expanded playoffs finish by the end of October
Why did this take so long? That’s one question. Another, and seemingly forgotten one, is should this be happening?
Baseball has skipped this question. At no point in these perpetual back-and-forths has one side questioned whether the process should be proceeding. And, the biggest detriment to a successful season -- no matter the games played -- remains the same virus which prompted all of this in the first place.
Coronavirus still hovers over the top of MLB. It’s rarely mentioned anymore, and the health protocol plans of all this have not been clarified since the original 67-page document was released, questioned and reworked a month ago.
Recent case spikes in Florida and Arizona have caused teams to rethink their spring training plans. The Houston Astros opened FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for individual, spaced-out, workouts May 25. Ten days later, the team announced they would hold spring training in Houston, if there were to be one. The move was a harbinger. The Nationals never reopened their side of the park for workouts despite multiple players remaining near West Palm Beach. Now, it appears most, if not all, teams will run Spring Training 2.0 in their home parks.
The rise of positive cases in several states reminds what an enormous logistical complication is still ahead. Major League Baseball is the only league attempting to criss-cross states, leaving one place with a flattened curve for one with a spike, then returning. How are elected officials who recently entered forward phases going to feel about that concept? For example: If the Nationals play their interleague games by division, along with their regular division schedule in a 66-game season, they will face a New York team 15 times (12 games against the Mets, three games against the Yankees). That’s almost a quarter of the season.
And, what happens to the cities with a spike? Do games stop there? Do the teams come to the opposing park? Can MLB pivot that fast? Those questions are not answered.
Tiered protocols of who can go where, who can see players in-person and who is allowed into the stadiums will be in place. Masks will -- hopefully -- be prevalent. Between the teams, personnel and media, every game will be a gathering of at least 100 people. A 66-game season would result in 989 total games. Baseball will be on the tightrope almost every day for three months.
The risk acceptance seems to be complete even if other aspects of an agreement are not. Players are demanding “when and where” from boxed-in owners. The league has never appeared to consider not playing because of the pandemic. Manfred led the self-congratulatory idea of baseball as a savior not long after it shut down. He twice guaranteed a season last week. Meanwhile, the caseloads shifted, the country protested, and the dynamics changed. None of it appears to have complicated the idea of moving forward for anyone involved.
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