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Column: MLB owners bear brunt of blame for shameful state of negotiations with players

A player stands on the MLB logo during a game.
(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Baseball could have announced its return Monday, the players throwing the owners a fastball down the middle by agreeing to come back to work immediately.

The owners took the pitch.

The owners stood feebly with the bat on their shoulders and shrugged.

The owners’ toothless leader then steered them away from the plate and back to the dugout with a threat to leave the ballpark entirely.

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Four days ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “We’re going to play baseball in 2020. One hundred percent.”

On Monday, he told ESPN, “I can’t tell you I’m 100% certain that’s going to happen.”

What a fool. What a farce. What a joke that the owners have made of their sport, tearing baseball apart by its 108 double stitches during a time the nation desperately needs its favorite teams to hold it together.

MLB sent a letter to the players saying games would not be scheduled unless the union agrees not to file for a bad-faith grievance hearing against the league.

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The NBA, NHL, MLS and WNBA get it. If the novel coronavirus pandemic allows, all will be playing games in mere weeks.

Baseball doesn’t get it. Baseball doesn’t have a clue. The national pastime has become a national fraud by allowing selfishness to silence its game when its fans crave it most.

The players should be in training right now. Greed said no. The owners should be planning for a 70-plus game season right now. Greed said no.

This space has generally placed the blame for baseball’s seemingly endless labor disputes on both the players and owners. And when this unseemly crisis bickering began a month ago, both were clearly at fault, because neither seemed to realize that both would need to make the same economic concessions shared by nearly everyone else in this country.

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But in the last couple of days, the liability shifted, and the sport’s calloused fingers are now pointing in the same direction.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a news conference in Phoenix.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

This onus is now clearly on the owners. Their intentions have now been exposed. Some of them want to shorten the season to an unrecognizable money-saving sprint, others seemingly don’t want to play at all and the majority are willing to sacrifice their sport for a few bucks. Given the events of the last couple of days, heck, it seems like few of them don’t even like baseball.

Last weekend, the players said they were done negotiating and were ready to show up for the agreed upon prorated salaries. The increasingly shortened season means all would be taking a 50% to 70% pay cut, but they finally decided they just wanted to play.

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“It’s time to get back to work,” players’ union boss Tony Clark said. “Just tell us when and where.”

On Monday, rather amazingly, the owners said not now, and not here. In news first reported by The Times’ Bill Shaikin, the owners sent a letter to the union stating the players could not return to work until they agreed not to file a grievance over lost salary. While such legal action could eventually cost the owners hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, those same owners could also file a grievance and, c’mon, seriously? The owners are going to allow a future day in court keep their teams from spending the rest of the summer on the field?

When the word, “owners’’ is written, remember, this includes the folks who run the two local baseball teams, and you have to wonder.

Mark Walter, when is enough, enough? You kept the Dodgers off television in most Los Angeles households for six years because of money. And now, because of money, you’re going to keep them off the field during what could be their best chance to win a championship?

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With the designated hitter rule expected to be implemented across all of MLB in a potential 2020 season, could it become permanent in the National League?

Arte Moreno, when is enough, enough? Your fans have suffered through a five-year playoff drought with the best player in baseball. Now that Mike Trout has a new championship manager and a new star third baseman, you’re going to waste another season of his career?

There is some speculation, and it makes sense, that the owners are stalling for time so they can implement a 48-game season in order to keep the players’ prorated salaries as low as possible. That short schedule was actually mentioned in a piece of MLB correspondence. It is, of course, the biggest joke of all.

Forty-eight games is not a baseball season, it’s a glorified spring training. It’s an entire summer stuffed into a seventh-inning stretch. It’s the Indy 200, the Boston 5K, the Olympic short jump.

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Forty-eight games would be a sham, and the owners should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking about it, but right now, they seem beyond shame.

In a summer when baseball could have helped heal a nation, the inept owners and their incompetent commissioner can’t even save themselves. While players and fans wait for a grand slam, the folks controlling the game continue to run a suicide squeeze.


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