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No choosing sides in baseball squabble: All parties are off-base

The inability to reach a deal reflects poorly on both owners and players.
The inability to reach a deal reflects poorly on both owners and players.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

Baseball owners are odious. Players are repugnant. Watching this baseball labor fiasco slowly unfold is the ultimate lose-lose exercise.

It is the most tone-deaf, callous, self-centered, stupid, and clueless behavior these eyes have seen in 45 years of covering professional sports. Do I make myself clear?

A global pandemic has killed more than 100,000 Americans and put nearly 40 million people out of work. A video of a Minneapolis police officer killing a handcuffed Black man has triggered the worst civil unrest in decades. Our nation weeps, pleading for justice and fairness, while we watch American cities looted and burned.

And in the middle of all this death, outrage, and economic collapse . . . baseball players and team owners are arguing about player compensation in a hostile and selfish negotiation that threatens to cancel the 2020 major league season.

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The NHL has already announced its comeback plan. The NBA is expected to do the same later this week. The ever-blessed NFL expects to play its full schedule without interruption.

Major League Baseball? Intransigent players and owners are squabbling about money. During an unprecedented crisis. At a moment in history when the sport itself may be teetering on the brink of irrelevance. MLB is like an aging cinematic diva still demanding special treatment and star perks long after the paparazzi moved on to the Much Younger Next Big Thing.

Which group is worse? Players or owners? It's probably too close to call. But I can make a case for both sides.

The players are worse because they have guys like Rays pitcher Blake Snell, who said, "I’m not splitting no revenue. I want all mine . . . If I’m going to play, I should be at the money I signed to be getting paid [$7 million for this season]. I should not be getting half of what I’m getting paid because the season’s cut in half . . . On top of that, it’s getting taxed. So imagine how much I’m actually making to play.''

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Will we see any baseball at Fenway this year?
Will we see any baseball at Fenway this year?Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

The owners are worse because the Oakland A’s said last week that as of May 31 they are no longer paying their minor league players. In the middle of a pandemic. A’s owner John Fisher is worth an estimated $2 billion.

The players are worse because they believe owners should stick to a prorated compensation deal signed in mid-March. That was before anyone knew the proposed season would be started without any fans, i.e. no attendance revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the document that the two sides signed shortly after the suspension of spring training stipulates that they would ‘discuss in good faith the economic feasibility’ of playing games without fans.'' Despite that clause, the players are claiming "a deal is a deal.''

The owners are worse because they are posturing in phony fashion, putting forth sliding scales designed to split player solidarity.

The players are worse because they have an agent/mouthpiece Scott Boras who is a bigger force than Players Association executive director Tony Clark. Boras likes to say, "You don’t privatize the gains and socialize the losses,'' but he was spanked by loose-cannon pitcher Trevor Bauer, who tweeted, "Keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.''

Players union chief Tony Clark speaks with reporters earlier this spring.
Players union chief Tony Clark speaks with reporters earlier this spring.The Washington Post

The owners are worse because they have Peter Angelos and Prince of Darkness Jerry Reinsdorf in their ranks. And let’s not forget Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who told ESPN, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.’’ Swell.

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The players are worse because the MLBPA says no to just about everything. Automatically. Drug testing? No. Pace of play? No. Salary cap? Never. Revenue sharing? Not on your life. Other leagues negotiate these things. Not the almighty MLBPA. In the name of Marvin Miller, they always assume the owners are trying to screw them, so they make everything a bargaining chip.

The owners are worse because some of them are being totally disingenuous and would rather scrap the entire 2020 season, knowing that they are going to lose money putting on a product with no attendance revenue.

The players are worse because they believe they deserve to "see the books.'' Swell. If you want to see the books, buy your own team. I happen to work for John Henry, who happens to own the Boston Globe, and despite our many disagreements, I have never believed it was my right to "see the books.''

The owners are worse because team staff members and scouts are being furloughed or taking pay cuts. The Red Sox are cutting pay of full-time employees who make more than $50,000. The Sox quietly told many employees during the day last Friday. Almost 200 other employees learned of the cuts Friday night in a baseball ops meeting that started at 8 p.m. and was led by Chaim Bloom.

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The players are worse because they don't trust anything the owners say.

The owners are worse because throughout history, they have not been trustworthy.

The clock is ticking. They need to settle this thing for the good of the game or there will not be a game.


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