As they bickered, their cities, ballparks and locker rooms became more treacherous, their game less essential.
The latter may soften the former, as baseball waited around long enough for the question to form — Is it worth it? Replacing the previous question — Can it help save us?
The coronavirus long ago dashed normal, then circled back to baseball a long weekend before the union rejected Major League Baseball’s 60-game proposal, so by Monday evening the commissioner was inclined to impose the structure of a season while some teams were counting up the recently afflicted.
What comes next is an inch-by-inch, second-by-second accounting for fretful symptoms and who touched what when, the game within the game that will tell the story of whatever season is to come.
The game will say it was with you all along, that it was here to assist you through the anxiety and malaise of health emergencies, quarantines, economic hardships and mounting evidence the country didn’t have enough fight in it. You’ll know better. The game rallied first, second and third to its own causes, to its own piffling quarrels, and looked up only when it was sure it had taken care of itself. That means all of them.
The players union would view the past five weeks as owners stalling for just long enough to assure the season they claimed they could afford. The owners would view those lost weeks as the cost of doing business, the part they could afford, where they get their way in the end.
Concluding more than a month of negotiations held amid a global pandemic and notable for their passive-aggressive statements, personal resentments and up-to-the-minute news leaks, baseball might finally be sneaking up on its when and where. Two more statements, one from each, filled the early evening, expressing regret that the other side would stand in the way at such a time.
Camps could reopen on July 1. The season could start three or four weeks later. They could fit in as many as 60 games, followed by whatever postseason they can pack into October. Players would receive full prorated salaries, so about 37 percent of their contracts if the commissioner calls for 60 games. Anything beyond that, the perks of an agreement — universal designated hitter for two seasons, expanded playoffs, greater financial compensation, among other items — was stripped away.
This is how they’ll proceed. Unless, of course, they don’t open camps or the season, because it will be too treacherous, because they can’t agree on the important stuff after bleeding over the insignificant stuff, and don’t play those games, because after all the time spent wrestling each other for control of the 2020 season, Monday was also the day to concede it will not be up to any of them.
They operate now into the headwind of the coronavirus, from a foothold that gives a little each time they dig in. The players on Monday evening rejected the owners’ final proposal, which looked and smelled like the other proposals, in a 33-5 vote that seemed to condemn the idea of agreement rather than the terms themselves.
Baseball had lost most people on the details weeks ago. The players demanded nine days back, “Tell us when and where,” then concluded (or appeared to conclude) negotiations on a familiar theme: “No and no.” The league was sure it had neared a deal six days ago, a Tuesday evening that will be recalled as the best and last chance for anyone to get out of this without a stick in the eye.
Six months or a year or two from now, there will come a moment to consider who we were during a terribly demanding time. On whether we were compassionate or fearless or resolute, on whether we did the right thing or even tried, on whether we were capable enough — humble enough — to see that time for what it was. That it was temporary. That it required a little more for, with any luck, a little while. That there was so much more to it than who got theirs and screw the rest.
Yeah, the other guy is bull-headed. The other guy is selfish. The other guy is taking advantage. The other guy just doesn’t understand. He’s being irrational.
Yeah, well, we’re in the fourth week of June, the virus hasn’t left and might only now be getting angry, everybody in baseball is standing on principle and there isn’t yet a game on a schedule. That’s where it gets them. That’s who they were.
So, they all may ponder the consequences.
Of a collective bargaining agreement that expires in not quite a year-and-a-half.
Of a potential grievance claim put forth by the players, based on a March 26 agreement that marked the last time the owners and players shook hands on anything.
Of the coming four months, July, August, September and October, baseball every day, gatherings of people every day, with the virus blowing in from dead center every day.
Of, perhaps, the wisdom of players spending hours upon hours in the cities and ballparks and locker rooms that are again treacherous. At least they would know baseball is not essential. The past five weeks have taught us that.
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