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For Zimmerman and the Nationals, March 30th will forever be a good day

For Zimmerman and the Nationals, March 30th will forever be a good day

The crack was loud in part because the crowd was quiet.

Late on a Sunday night, March 30, 2008, when Nationals Park had been open for a handful of hours, Ryan Zimmerman further defined his "Mr. Walkoff" nickname.

Peter Moylan, Atlanta's sidewinding right-hander, whipped a 1-0 pitch toward Zimmerman with two out, none on and the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. When it landed, a row deep and into the hands of a fan in a hoodie, ESPN’s Jon Miller announced in his made-for-baseball baritone, “The ball game is over. Ryan Zimmerman has delivered.”

Zimmerman’s fourth career walk-off homer opened the park with euphoria. The first day brought 39,389 into the new stadium, which was touted as a centerpiece for rejuvenation in a section of Washington which needed it. Those who were there, and the overall situation, reflects how far the team has come. It’s also yet another reminder of how long Zimmerman has been around.

Odalis Perez started the game. Jon Rausch tried to finish it. Manny Acta managed it. The team was terrible.

Jim Bowden put the club together. He resigned less than a year later. The team finished 59-102 that year. Acta made it 87 games into the next season before losing his job. Jim Riggleman took over, starting his own saga in Washington.

Of the eight regulars from the 2008 season, only three -- Zimmerman, Christian Guzman and Willie Harris -- were regulars the next year. The team stunk then, too, cruising in at 59-103, almost a mirrored failing.

Zimmerman, meanwhile, was growing into one of the league’s better players and entrenching himself as one of the few positive lights in Washington. He became an All-Star the following year, then put together a 6.2-WAR season in 2010. The team began its pivot to relevancy two years later in 2012. Eleven years after he opened Nationals Park with a walk-off home run, Zimmerman was waving a giant Nationals flag in Minute Maid Park after winning Game 7 of the World Series.

Not long after Zimmerman cranked the flag around in Houston, he became a free agent for the first time. Mike Rizzo said he thought Zimmerman would be back, and made a voluntary point when suggesting a statue of Zimmerman would eventually rest outside of Nationals Park. Days like March 30, 2008 are among the reasons why.

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If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

To put 50 games in context, just flashback to last season. It’s easy enough. Say it: 19-31. If the Nationals could, they would trademark those numbers together.

Fifty games is a flash. Almost a death knell to the eventual 2019 World Series champions. That’s a season over in late May. Think of it this way: Teams play around 30 games in a normal spring training alone.

The owners have pushed this number into the public with their non-counter-counter to the players’ suggestion of 114 games. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to use the March agreement between players and owners as a cudgel. Players are refusing to take a further pay cut on top of the one already negotiated. Manfred in turn is saying, “Fine. Then we will schedule the amount of games that are in line with what you are being paid.”

In play now is the 48-game season, according to ESPN. A smidge under 50. A full blitz that would be looked back at as a farce if it’s attempted to be played in the regular way. Playing half a season in the traditional manner is probably the minimum for any legitimacy. Even then, 2020 will be awash in caveats.

The Nationals’ 2020 recovery came against restrictive odds. The manager was supposed to be fired. Some suggested trading the best players, and to do it sooner than later. Season simulations said the Nationals were done. Or as close to it as possible.

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A 50- or 48-game season would cook anyone who has a bad two weeks. Lose a frontline starter? It’s over. Have your shortstop and leadoff hitter hit on the finger by a pitch and miss three weeks? It’s over. Half a season feels like a baseball sprint. Fifty games or less defines the league’s desperation to put some pennies back in its pocket in 2020.

There is one fun idea around a 50-game season. It was hatched at Fangraphs. The premise is one big 50-game tournament. Not the usual three-game series in this town, and four-game series in that city.
Fangraphs makes the on-point mathematical argument that 50 games determines next to nothing when comparing the best in the league to the mediocre. It’s just games for the sake of games.

Since baseball is trying to wade through extraordinary times, why not attempt something extraordinary, such as the tournament?

The model used at Fangraphs included 32 teams, all 30 major-league clubs plus two futures teams, one from each league. Let’s use that premise.

Stage the whole thing in the Texas Rangers’ new park -- Texas is already saying it will allow fans. Have a loser’s bracket. Make the final a five-game series. Pay the players what was already negotiated. Pin more money to the outcome. Run it from early July to the end of September. That way, you still play through much of the summer but duck under a possible fall coronavirus spike the owners are so wary of.

No caveats about if the season was long enough for an authentic champion. This is a complete outlier. The tournament year. Players wore microphones. Some kid from Double-A struck out Bryce Harper in a big at-bat. No leagues. Everyone in the same pot. Have some fun amid an historically troubling time.

What’s not working is the public whining from both sides. The inability to make a deal. The lack of common ground. Both groups are working toward one idea: loss mitigation. A 50-game season does little of that and carries even less validity. Just ask a team that opened last year 19-31.

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MLB return: Union fires back at owners in latest statement, reject additional concessions

MLB return: Union fires back at owners in latest statement, reject additional concessions

The latest whack of the negotiation tether ball came Thursday night when Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, issued a statement of discontent.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone,” it began.

Clark went on to cite the league’s most recent suggestion of a “dramatically shortened” season “unless Players negotiate salary concessions.” The league suggested a 50-game season would be reasonable for the amount of money players agreed to in salary following a late-March negotiation.

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The statement went on to refer to the league’s stance as a “threat,” as opposed to the players' proposal, which in Clark’s view, was designed to move the negotiations forward. He rattled off the various items in the union’s proposal, which was framed around a 114-game season: more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals and the exploration of additional “jewel events” (All-Star Game, etc.).

Clark said a conference call with the MLBPA’s eight-person executive board, which includes Max Scherzer, and several other player leaders concluded “the league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

Clark went on to say the players are ready to compete and get back on the field.

The union’s reaction to MLB’s non-reaction is not a surprise. Players are adamant they are not taking further salary cuts. The league solidly believes salaries should -- and need to be -- negotiated if there is to be some form of 2020 season. Everyone continues to wait for a solution.

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