This is the beginning and far from the end.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred found himself in a strange space Monday. He needed to force a season. The players would not agree with the owners about the number of games to be played during pandemic-stricken 2020. It became the unresolvable impasse. So, Manfred reached back to their late March agreement, exercised his power therein, and made a decision. They will attempt a 60-game season.
It’s not final. He asked the players’ association to come back to him Tuesday by 5 p.m. on a July 1 spring training start date and agreement on the 67-page health protocol produced more than a month ago.
The date, finally, will not be a hurdle. Players will be happy to move swiftly to start spring training in their home ballparks. However, the health parameters could become another sticking point. Players at first thought they were too stringent. Replacing baseballs touched by multiple players, no spitting, no on-site showering, on and on and on.
But, the players have changed their tenor, as noted in a crucial two sentences from the MLBPA’s statement following their rejection of the league’s final proposal.
“Earlier this evening, the full Board reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible. To that end we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days…”
Safety is back as a priority. It started as one, then faded. And, agreeing to the health protocol is only a step toward resolution. The original document was filled with problems as much as procedures. There is no enforcement mechanism. There is no outline for what level of risk they are willing to accept. Is one outbreak too many? Two? How many people? How many teams? How many relocations are possible to avoid hot spots before it all becomes too much?
Side deals could be coming, too. The idea of expanded playoffs -- if even just for this year -- is out. The sides could bring that back in an addendum. It makes sense for both. The players did not receive the length of season they wanted, which costs them money. The owners are playing longer than they want to, which costs them money. An expanded postseason, should there be one at all, would help fill the coffers.
No matter what’s decided on top of the base agreement, finally understood is the fact the lead complication for a season is the virus. It has not abated. More college football players tested positive since Manfred’s announcement. Major League Baseball is all but guaranteed to have different outbreaks. The question will be how big, how long, and how can they quell them? There’s no answer to that on a piece of paper.
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