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dan shaughnessy

We need to have baseball — and not the same tired negotiating rhetoric

Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.Morry Gash

I got an e-mail from Hall of Famer Jim Palmer Tuesday night. Subject line: “Pettiness.”

Palmer’s missive read (in part): "The players union just will never get it. People dying, out of work, can’t pay their mortgage, no Senior proms, MLB abbreviated draft to disrupt lifelong dreams, and people need a diversion, and Tony Clark doesn’t want to set a precedent! Full pay for games with no fans! The players know it’s all about revenue — less $, less pay and be glad you have a job. Otherwise, stay home and drive your wife crazy!''

This came on the heels of former All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira saying on ESPN, "Players need to understand that if they turn down this deal and shut the sport down, they’re not making a cent. I would rather make pennies on the dollar and give hope to people and play baseball than not make anything and lose an entire year of their career.''

To which I would just like to add …

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Play ball.

That’s what everybody wants to hear. Of course we want the ballplayers to be safe and we want all the required testing, quarantining, social distancing, and no high fives or spitting. We understand that there will be only 82 regular-season games, and 14 playoff teams instead of 10. And a DH in every game.

We accept the notion that the Red Sox won’t be playing the Twins, White Sox, Angels, or A’s. They won’t be able to beat up on the Orioles as often, and they’ll have to deal with the Mets, Braves, Nationals, Phillies, and Marlins. They’re probably going to have to play the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., instead of Toronto.

Oh, and taking our families to Fenway? That’s out, too. Baseball will be a TV show only. At least for the immediate future.

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We can live with all that.

We reluctantly are prepared to live with no baseball if it turns out that COVID-19 will close everything down deep into the summer and fall because player safety cannot be guaranteed.

What we cannot live with is no baseball because the owners and players cannot work out player compensation. What we cannot live with is mutual distrust and tired old arguments that caused a 50-day work stoppage in 1981 and cancellation of the World Series in 1994.

What we cannot live with is Business As Usual by the ever-angry/intransigent Major League Baseball Players Association and the Montgomery Burns Club of big league owners.

The two sides negotiated Tuesday and were scheduled to talk again Wednesday. They have 2-3 weeks to come to an agreement that would kick-start a second spring training in mid-June, making way for a regular season beginning at the start of July.

We are told that player compensation wasn't even discussed Tuesday, but battle lines have already been drawn across the USA.

Mega-agent Scott Boras fired the opening salvo Monday when he told Sports Illustrated, "We reached an agreement and there will not be a renegotiation of that agreement.'' Clark, the union chief, chimed in, telling The Athletic, "The league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past.''

Please put a sock in that.

Could agent Scott Boras have a sizable role in the talks between the players and owners?
Could agent Scott Boras have a sizable role in the talks between the players and owners?Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Call me a toady for ownership if you want (although my frosty relationship with Sox/Globe owner John Henry is hard-earned and well-documented), but do Boras and Clark really think playing games with no fans is going to be a financial windfall for the owners?

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The “agreement” Boras was talking about was the deal players and owners struck back in March when spring training shut down. The parties agreed to player compensation pro-rated on whatever portion of the season would be played. We now know it’s roughly half a season, hence half-pay, but owners want additional cuts because they say the agreement has a clause allowing for further adjustments if the games are played without attendance revenue.

Major league ballplayers have been trained to hold their noses at the mention of “revenue sharing." Unlike the other major sports, they have resisted a salary cap with the power of a thousand suns. In the spirit of the late Marvin Miller, they are suspicious that owners will use a COVID-motivated adjustment to forever change the pay scale when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.

But this is not "business as usual,'' and Boras, Clark, and the PA need to cease with the typical, tired negotiation rhetoric.

Before any of you gentle readers counter with "players are the ones taking the health risk,'' let’s agree that this is true — while reminding everybody that employees in our hospitals, Walmarts, and Market Baskets are also at risk while being paid considerably less than big league ballplayers.

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Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday he’s disappointed players are holding out for more money when everyone is sacrificing.

Not fair. Players are not holding out. Not yet. Players don't even have a deal in front of them yet.

But players and their reps need to be reminded that this is not a typical negotiation.

Jim Palmer, seen here with Jim Rice in 1998, is advocating for a win-win situation for both sides.
Jim Palmer, seen here with Jim Rice in 1998, is advocating for a win-win situation for both sides.Jim Davis

"What is paramount is that the players, coaches, trainers, field personnel feel comfortable with the covid-19 aspect of going back to playing,'' Palmer said. "Both the owners and players have to understand that there may be a new normal for the 2020 season.

"All the contracts with the players were based on projected 2020 revenues. Those numbers are out the window if you’re considering playing in empty stadiums.

"Cal Ripken Sr. told me in 1964 when I was 18 that the reason we play this game is for the fans. Has anything changed since 1964? Emphatically No. So both the players and owners need to be transparent with their wish list, sit down, negotiate an agreement that takes all parties in consideration.

"Why not come up with a win-win for everybody based on the new normal? How many times have players said, ‘I’d play this game for nothing? I love it so much.’ We’re in the midst of a pandemic. Give fans who pay the freight what they need — baseball.''


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.