Welcome to the 29th edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped-down Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime.
We’re entering what should have been the All-Star break, and yet we haven’t had much to do other than spin the wheels recently. Between the coronavirus and the ever-present labor dispute between MLB and the MLBPA, it had looked increasingly likely for weeks now that there would be no season this year.
While MLB and the MLBPA fought like Mom and Dad, we have spent the spring and summer playing whiffle ball by ourselves with stifling masks on. Unless you’re a minor leaguer, in which case Mom and Dad just left you at the bank while they continued to argue in the car ride home about the root of all evil, money.
However, even with our global pandemic continuing to pose more questions than answers, it appears we have one question that may finally be answered:
Baseball is coming back!
Reports of an agreement are false.
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 17, 2020
Relax! I kid! I kid! Notice the date from that Tweet was from June 17th, but the crushing wave of disappointment some of you may have just felt pretty much sums up the last few months since baseball was scheduled to begin in April.
MLB OWNERS WHEN THERE'S DECADES OF CONSTANT PROFIT: This profit is all mine. You signed a contract, and I keep the rest. That's business!
MLB OWNERS WHEN THERE'S ONE YEAR OF LOSSES: We're all in this together! I love sharing! Let's share these once-in-a-generation losses!
— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) May 22, 2020
Ok, to be fair it was a lot more complex than that. There were proposals from the league, counters from the players’ union, more back and forth, and so on. If you really like to spend your evenings with a glass of wine, a Marvin Gaye record playing in the background, and the sensual literature that is MLB labor disputes, Jeff Passan is your man.
If you’re like the rest of us, you just want to know how it all ended.
Except, we can’t really do that, can we? After all, these are not cartoon characters and superheroes we are watching at the ballpark every day, even if as children, we can’t help but liken them to heroes.
As such, they deserve to have their voices heard like all people do. So let’s begin there.
Our Main Story
MLB and the MLBPA have been negotiating the return of baseball for months now, and it’s been both public and rather unsavory at times. The players, in particular, have been quite outspoken:
Why is it that everyone feels entitled to come to my feed to share their opinions about the negotiations with me but I’m not allowed to share my opinion about negotiations on my own feed?
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 13, 2020
Can Manfred just implement the 48 game season already since we all know that’s all he’s trying to do here. These negotiations are brutal. All the owners are doing is wasting time to get what they want. This sucks.
— Randal Grichuk (@RGrich15) June 13, 2020
I just want to get paid for every game that We are out there. It’s simple. https://t.co/R4oFyMEPQv
— Evan Longoria (@Evan3Longoria) June 14, 2020
Yeah, those sound like reasonable requests. And at one point, it looked like we may actually see half a season get played. Prior to the start of their negotiations with the union, the owners approved a plan that for an 82-game season with expanded rosters, a 14 team postseason, and even a 50-50 revenue split between the owners and players.
Except, the players wanted prorated salaries dependent on the number of games they played, and they thought the deal they struck with owners in March settled that issue.
Then, this happened:
Oh, the s***storm that ensued. A veritable campaign to reduce Blake Snell to a privileged and petulant star who should just “shut up and play.” Imagine your boss telling you that the company has a proposal to keep you working, but it involves you making a fraction of what you were contracted to make, you’ll need to go under lockdown away from family and loved ones for months, and you might be risking infection to boot.
Perhaps Kyle Glaser said it best:
As I mentioned last week, it would cost owners about $26.67 million per team to get to an 82-game season at full prorated salaries.
That's a gap they are very, very capable of closing. https://t.co/qw87zrRJsV
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) June 16, 2020
Needless to say, the gap was not closed. Very little progress was made. Players agreed to a universal DH, and the conversation naturally returned to compensation. The conversation, spread out over many weeks, went something like this:
MLB: It’s early May. Let’s get this done quickly so we can all get back to doing what we love—you playing baseball and us making lots of money. You keep complaining that you shouldn’t have to agree to a pay reduction, but we’ll be taking an even bigger hit. You might lose a couple million. We’re going to lose $640,000 per game. We’re talking $4 billion with no butts in those seats to watch you play.
MLBPA: Oh yeah? Show us the accounting that proves that.
MLB: You work for me, not the other way around. We don’t have to show you squat.
MLBPA: Well, if you want anyone squatting behind home plate this year, you better pro-rate our salaries and quit it with this pay cut talk unless you plan on working in some serious deferrals. I mean, is it even going to be safe to play ball?
MLB: Trust us. We’ll make it safe.
MLB: Do you want to have a season or not?
MLBPA: We’ll do a 114-game season, no more pay cuts, and deferrals in case the ‘rona wipes the season out before we finish.
MLB: Fine, we will pay your damned prorated salaries IF… and only IF, we do a shorter season.
MLBPA: How much shorter?
MLB: 76 games.
MLBPA: OK, we might be down for that.
MLB: And 75 percent of your prorated salaries.
MLB: Geez, relax. What did we say about the ‘roids and all that rage?
MLBPA: Don’t even! You wouldn’t have $4 billion to pretend to lose if some of us didn’t trade the balls in our pants for balls hit over your stupid little fences.
MLB: Fair point. Though, per our legal team’s advice, we maintain our public stance that we knew nothing about that.
MLBPA: We’re sure. Quit changing the subject.
MLB: Fine, same deal, but we’ll throw in no MLB draft pick compensation for signing players.
MLBPA: You do realize this deal is even worse than the first one you offered, right?
MLB: Is it?
MLBPA: 89 games, full prorated salaries, and $5 million to help minor leaguers.
MLBPA: You think the salaries you agreed to pay us are a joke?
MLB: No, ahem. Sorry. We were just… it was the minor leaguer thing.
MLBPA: What? Don’t you care about player development? The future?
MLBPA: You guys really suck, you know that? What’s your counter?
MLB: Well, it’s already June 12th now. We’ll do 72 games. And we prorate 70% of your salaries, BUT… if there’s a postseason, we’ll bump that up to 80.
MLBPA: How about we step outside and we can show you where you can shove that 80?
MLB: Let’s be civil now.
MLBPA: Whatever. Schedule a season. Tell us when and where. Speaking of “where”… where is Rob? Hey, Manfred! That agreement we made in March allows you to unilaterally schedule a season provided we get paid our full prorated salaries. Make it happen, Roberto. We want an answer by Monday.
MLB: Or what?
MLB: Ok, ok. Wait! (sigh, followed by dramatic groan). God, ’94 still gives us nightmares. FINE! Full prorated salaries… for 60 games. But we’re doing expanded playoffs, and that’s that, you hear me?
MLBPA: 70 games.
MLB: 60… with some 2021 concessions.
MLB: Rob, you wanna call it?
… so after six weeks of all that, we finally get commissioner Rob Manfred’s imposed an outline for a 60-game 2020 season.
Hey, at least we are getting baseball back. The players have clamored for this dispute to be resolved, so it’s time to play ball!
Players who have opted out of the 2020 MLB Season:
— Sports Stats (@TheSportsStats_) July 11, 2020
Hmm… OK, well, gotta respect everyone’s right to opt-out if he doesn’t feel safe. At least we still have stars like Christian Yelich and Mike Tro–
Mike Trout: “Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable.”
— Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) July 3, 2020
Ok, ok. Again, to be fair, Mike Trout and his wife are expecting their first child in August. One would imagine that with all the safety measures put in place, there should be nothing to worry about, right?
MLB releasing its schedule tonight while teams aren’t getting test results back, players are testing positive, and others are opting out of the season pic.twitter.com/zQS1glggEH
— Connor Newcomb (@ConnorNewcomb_) July 6, 2020
LOTS of covid cases in MLB. Does anyone believe Opening Day is still less than 20 days away? I have my doubts.
— TanManBaseballFan (@tanmanbbfan) July 5, 2020
All that can be said is this: Let’s try to be as sensible as we can about all this, and move forward with a pragmatic plan that takes into account the greater good.
Ah, who am I kidding? It will be a miracle if this season finishes, assuming it happens at all. Expect many more players to opt-out, and let’s agree to respect their rights to do so, for if we’re being honest, no justification is needed from any of them should they opt-out in the first place.
And to the fans that suddenly protest the year should be canceled when the best players on their team test positive for COVID and potentially miss a good portion of this truncated season…. it’s very clear that you’re more concerned the team can’t win without those players than you are for the players themselves.
I just hope nobody ends up severely ill, or worse. We all want baseball back, if for no other reason than for a return to normalcy that baseball can help provide.
But who can say what the new normal will be?
Rob Manfred, I don’t envy you, nor anyone else forced to make tough decisions that affect the lives of many during these unprecedented times.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
The MLB All-Star Game will be canceled this month. However, according to Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic, the game may have already been played:
“A group that included Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Paul Goldschmidt, Giancarlo Stanton and more than 30 other big leaguers had quietly been working together — from a safe distance. They formed a secret baseball group while playing at Palm Beach Gardens High School.”
That group, it was reported, played two nine-inning games. They called it “Prohibition baseball,” and it would be one of the greatest baseball documentaries ever if any of it was recorded, which apparently some of it was.
Can you imagine the game’s best casually playing a Sandlot-style game while their wives socially distanced in the stands nearby? Max Scherzer asking Logan Morrison how his breaking ball looks, while Paul Goldschmidt stretches on first base and talks to Giancarlo Stanton about pandemic manscaping and a close call with the Lawn Mower 3.0 a few weeks back. I also wonder if Justin Verlander had a trash can beside him on the mound just to troll everyone there.
The fact that some of the game’s biggest studs were willing to grind it out for free under a hot Florida sun during a pandemic, reminds all of us that baseball is still important, perhaps more so now than ever before.
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
You may have noticed that Trevor Bauer had some issues with feeling like his voice was stifled during the negotiations. Well, one former big leaguer took umbrage with Bauer sharing his thoughts.
Warning, some of the following exchange is NSFW, but you can read the entire thing chronicled here in this USA Today article by Jesse Yomtov.
Here’s a taste of this ridiculous affair:
Thanks pookie. I know some people are only capable of doing one thing at a time. Others of us can walk and chew bubble gum simultaneously. And if you want to talk about winning, a stat called wins above replacement does that. Me: 17.4. You: 17.3. Better at wining, and tweeting ? https://t.co/jHE50aFoRM
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 23, 2020
All I can say is this: neither man did himself any favors here. If there was ever a recipe for disaster, it’s these two guys with social media at their fingertips.
However, why have only one soapbox when you can have another. Here’s Ian Desmond going on his own diatribe, but at least this or is worth listening to here:
Here's a link to the full post. Highly suggest reading this: https://t.co/ZNxzIODKlk
— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) June 30, 2020
Never mind the fact that Desmond plans to opt-out of playing this year. He raises some compelling points and exposes an underbelly of the game that absolutely needs to be cleansed. No workplace should be rife with “racist, sexist, homophobic jokes” with impunity.
Baseball, whenever it returns to normalcy, will have some issues under the rug that desperately need to be addressed.
Sometimes, no extra caption is needed.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) July 7, 2020
That’s the ballgame for this week! Thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you all soon!
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)