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On baseball

Baseball is picking a bad time for the wrong fight

For MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners and players are starting negotiations miles apart.
For MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners and players are starting negotiations miles apart.John Raoux/Associated Press

The NBA is moving steadily toward a well-considered plan to play its remaining games at Disney World. The NHL announced Tuesday that it would start a 24-team playoff once the health protocols needed to get back on the ice are put in place. The NFL plowed ahead, conducting an entertaining draft, then announcing its schedule for the fall. NASCAR has started running races again. The PGA Tour is back in business.

Professional sports will not return to normal any time soon as the world cautiously emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, most of the commissioners, athletes, owners, and executives involved understand that this is a time to make accommodations for the good of everybody involved, especially the fans.

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If only that message can get through to Major League Baseball.

Owners made a proposal Tuesday seemingly designed to split the Players Association. MLB suggested that the lowest-paid players receive the highest percentage of their prorated original salaries with the highest-paid players receiving a smaller percentage.

For every Gerrit Cole or Mike Trout, there are a dozen players who make the minimum or close to it. But the more experienced — and better-paid — players tend to wield more influence within the union. Or at least their agents do.

The Players Association quickly let it be known that the sliding-scale proposal was “extremely disappointing.”

This all goes back to a March agreement between the sides that called for prorated salaries based on the number of games played. The Players Association would like to consider that matter closed, but the owners want further cuts because the season will almost surely be played without fans at ballparks.

Like football, basketball, hockey, and the other sports, baseball will not generate as much revenue in 2020. Every player and owner will make far less than they expected fourth months ago. But surely they can agree on how to split the money that does come in from an 82-game regular season and an expanded postseason.

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It’s unseemly that their squabbling continues given the death and economic ruin caused by the pandemic.

Will we see baseball at Fenway this year?
Will we see baseball at Fenway this year?Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

MLB can’t even get the little stuff right. The NBA and NFL have uniform rules regarding the use of team facilities to keep anybody from trying to get an edge. But it’s a free-for-all in baseball.

Several teams, including the Rays and Yankees, have opened their ballparks or spring training complexes to players to start working out. Others, like the Red Sox, have not.

The union is at fault, too. The players are pushing back on several of the proposed safety protocols, including the use of therapeutic hot and cold tubs before or after games.

Players treasure their routines and one day they’ll be able to get back to them, but fighting over being able to take a soak is ridiculous.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking. The sides need to get this wrapped up by the end of the week to give everybody involved a clear plan on reporting to spring training by June 10 and what will come after that. The logistics of starting the season now are a significant challenge.

My belief is this posturing will end and a deal will be made. Maybe it will take a group of influential owners to break the stalemate or some prominent players to finally speak up. Obviously both sides will suffer short-term financial pain. Find a way to divide that up and move on.

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Keep in mind that Tuesday was the first step in a negotiation and changes likely will be made. In the end, an agreement has to get done because the alternative is toxic for everybody involved.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark surely must understand that their legacies will be forever trashed if baseball doesn’t have a season. The same will be true for the owners and players.

Baseball survived the Black Sox scandal, assorted strikes and lockouts over the years, and the Steroid Era. But this, fighting over money during a pandemic, is something entirely different.

If MLB parks remain closed in July while the NBA and NHL playoffs are going on and NFL teams are reporting to training camp, it will be a disaster.

Everybody else found a way to make it work. Now it’s time for baseball.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.