It has been nearly seven years since Tony Clark was named executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Clark, 48, is the first former player in that role. It’s a challenging job, even more so the last 10 months as baseball dealt with the pandemic.
Contentious negotiations with MLB about how best to handle the crisis led to a 60-game season that was ultimately successful. Now the sides have to determine a path for 2021 then negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the pact that expires Dec. 1, 2021.
In an exclusive interview with the Globe, Clark discussed getting through last season and what lies ahead for the game. Here’s a transcript of his comments:
Question: Given the circumstances, how much of an accomplishment was it to complete the season and crown a champion?
Answer: "I think it was tremendous for the game to play, to have the players perform at the level they performed at in what all of us recognize were challenging and unique conditions.
“It goes without saying the challenges many us experienced goes well beyond the playing field. But having an opportunity amid those challenges to have the game played, to have our guys make the adjustments that they were asked to make and perform the way they did is something we’re all grateful.”
Q: For the sake of your free agents, how soon will you need to determine the rules for 2021, specifically if the universal DH will continue and the structure of the playoffs?
A: “It would be beneficial to have an idea as to what 2021 would look like as soon as we’re able to do so. Informally, the dialogue has begun. As we continue to get feedback from players on a number of related issues, the hope that we can work through them efficiently is indeed the goal. I’m encouraged by the initial dialogue.”
Q: How do the players view an expanded postseason?
A: "There are a number of concerns about what expanded playoffs would look like in a normal or more normal season. Having expanded playoffs in a very unique year was one thing. It undoubtedly raises concerns when you talk about expanding playoffs, making it easier for teams to reach the playoffs.
"The concerns are around reducing incentives for winning division titles; or winning the most games possible. We already had concerns about the desire by some [teams] not to win as many games as possible, and calling into question the integrity of the regular season is a difficult proposition to say the least.
“There’s a lot that’s going to have to be discussed and worked through.”
Q: Given what you were able to accomplish in having a season, but also the difficulties in getting there, how is the union’s relationship with MLB?
A: “I think this year was an opportunity for our players to appreciate all of the moving pieces that are often a part of any conversation with the league or any negotiation with the league. Collective eyes were opened in a lot of ways as a result of player engagement.”
Q: Games were played with fans at the NLCS and World Series. Did that prove 2021 can be played with fans?
A: “We remain hopeful, while respecting the individual municipalities, that possibility exists moving forward. We anticipate as a result of what we’ve learned that all 30 ballparks will have that opportunity.”
Q: As it stands right now, do you see a normal spring training in 2021 and a 162-game season?
A: “I do. I do. Our guys are preparing as such. The experiences that we had [last season], the things we learned, not to mention the testing that was involved and how players, their families, and staff adhered to the protocols — all of that gives us confidence in a 162-game season.”
Q: Are all of the new rules (extra-inning tiebreaker, seven-inning doubleheaders, etc.) from 2020 up for discussion again?
A: “Yes, at this juncture, all of that involves our input.”
Q: Do you expect free agency to be challenging given the claims by teams of their lost revenues?
A: “We all appreciate the challenges that were the result of the pandemic. We also believe that there are ownership groups that do want to compete and do want to grow their fan bases, that do want to ensure their long-term well-being and will be interested in players that can help them win ballgames. We’ll see.”
Q: How much do you regret that the negotiations last spring played out in public and angered a large portion of the fan base and put the game in a bad light?
A: "It should have never been public. There is an opportunity, even amid disagreements, to have those disagreements discussed and worked through in a manner that does not have a ticker at the bottom of the TV screen every time there’s a miss.
"I think it’s in everyone’s best interests — and I said this in March, April, May, and June — that those be the types of discussions we have moving forward.
“Let me put it to you this way: The game means everything to me. I’ve been fortunate to have played and been associated with our game for 30 years now. So, yes, any time our game is not viewed in a way that is reflective of the love and passion and commitment that we have to it, and for it, is hard.”
Q: Understanding you don’t represent minor league players, how concerned are you with the contraction of the minors?
A: "Outside of a very few players, all of us come through the minor leagues. All of us experienced what it was like to work from the bottom up with the hope of achieving your goal of becoming a big leaguer.
“Although we don’t currently represent minor league players, all of our players are very cognizant of what’s going on, if only because of their experiences.”
Q: How much were you encouraged by the involvement of so many players in the social justice issues of the summer?
A: "Very heartened. I don’t know that there was a time I’ve been prouder of our players as they asked themselves the tough questions, they had the tough conversations. Without prompting or orchestration, players of all ethnicities came together to take a stance on behalf of the issues that were front and center.
“Very encouraged by the conversations that were being had and the concerns and the education that was taking place as everyone engaged.”
Q: Baseball players have often been apolitical when compared to other sports, the NBA in particular. Is that changing?
A: “I think there’s an opportunity for that. Our guys reflect the community they live in and come from, and as a result of it continuing to be a part of our social consciousness, I don’t know that I expect the dialogue to change any time soon.”
How far could Red Sox go?
Red Sox manager Alex Cora has mentioned several times in recent days that he tried to catch every game Trevor Bauer started last season.
“That was fun to watch,” he said.
The idea of Bauer joining the Red Sox is interesting. They need pitching, and some personality wouldn’t hurt.
But Bauer rejected a qualifying offer from the Reds, so signing him would mean losing their second-highest draft pick and $500,000 in international slot money.
Predictably, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom didn’t discount the idea of signing any player when asked about free agents who rejected qualifying offers.
“It’s our responsibility to engage on everybody who could fit us,” he said. “Obviously, when you’re talking about somebody that has a qualifying offer on them, the cost to us in signing them is greater and you have to factor that in on some level. But I don’t like ruling us out on anybody.”
The Sox' second pick is No. 34 overall. Laying out the cash needed to sign Bauer and giving up a pick that high flies in the face of what Bloom has been preaching about building a sustainable team.
Along with Bauer, D.J. LeMahieu, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer also rejected qualifying offers.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery on March 30. Recovery typically takes 9-12 months, followed by a ramping-up process.
Bloom predicted a “midsummer return” for Sale to be fully stretched out as a starter. It’s clear the Sox plan to take their time with Sale, who turns 32 in March.
Eduardo Rodriguez told MLB Network Radio that his offseason conditioning is going well following his recovery from COVID-19, and he expects to be ready for Opening Day.
“I would say I will be 100 percent ready for next season,” Rodriguez said. “I feel great.”
Rodriguez gave the Sox 203⅓ innings in 2019. To what degree he can approach that after missing an entire season isn’t certain.
Finding 900-950 innings from their starters is going to require a lot of work.
“I’d like to be in a spot where we feel pretty good about what we have, and when [Sale] comes back, that’s upside,” Bloom said.
▪ The Sox need a bench coach and appear content to take their time making a hire. Bloom could want somebody he has an established relationship with after coming around to the idea of bringing Cora back.
▪ Cora told Sam Kennedy the 7:30 p.m. start time for home games this season was “very uncomfortable” as a fan watching from home.
Now there’s an opinion everybody can get behind.
Cohen wows Mets fans
Steve Cohen established an ambitious agenda when he spoke to reporters for the first time as owner of the Mets: win a World Series in 3-5 years.
“I don’t want to just get into the playoffs. I want to win a championship,” Cohen said. “I’m not in this to be mediocre; I want something great.”
Cohen, 64, is a lifelong Mets fan with an estimated fortune of $14.1 billion. He has been hailed as a liberator by Mets fans who had grown tired of Fred and Jeff Wilpon.
Cohen referred to his hedge fund, Point72 Asset Management, as his “day job” on several occasions. The Mets, even at a cost of $2.4 billion, are more a passion than an investment.
“I’m essentially doing it for the fans,” Cohen said. “When I really thought about this, I could make millions of people happy, and what an incredible opportunity that is. That’s how I’m thinking about this. I’m not trying to make money here.”
Cohen said the Mets would have a payroll commensurate with a major-market team. He also plans to hire an experienced president of baseball operations to work under team president Sandy Alderson.
“I’m not crazy about people learning on my dime. Hopefully, we can find someone who is well-rounded and has abilities in multiple areas,” Cohen said.
Alderson, who ran the Mets under the Wilpons from 2010-18 then came back to work for Cohen, seemed gleefully unencumbered as he took questions.
“We now can emphasize the acquisition rather than the cost,” Alderson said.
That could lead to Trevor Bauer or George Springer. Or maybe both.
American League Manager of the Year Kevin Cash remains haunted by his decision to pull Blake Snell in Game 6 of the World Series. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on it,” he said. “I think we owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our players to continue to reflect on those decisions.” To his credit, Cash hasn’t run from the decision and taken on all questions about it … Bauer is the first pitcher to hit free agency after winning the Cy Young Award since Greg Maddux in 1992. Does he expect the market to be difficult even for a player of his stature? “I’m really not sure. I hope not,” Bauer said. “I certainly hope that the market performs how we would expect it to. I think for the industry as a whole, any added tension between players and ownership is probably not good at this point given that we have [collective] bargaining coming up after the  season.” Bauer said the initial read of the market by his agent, Rachel Luba, is positive … Baltimore’s Trey Mancini, who missed last season while being treated for colon cancer, said this past week that his most recent blood work was free of the disease and he’s preparing for spring training. “When I get there in February, I really think everybody will look at me and think that nothing happened if they didn’t know what happened,” said Mancini, who hit .291 with 35 homers and 97 RBIs in 2019 … The Tigers and new manager A.J. Hinch put together an interesting coaching staff. They hired innovative pitching coach Chris Fetter away from the University of Michigan and promoted Juan Nieves from the minors as his assistant. George Lombard, who interviewed to become manager, left the Dodgers to become Hinch’s bench coach. Hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh came from the White Sox and former Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale is third base coach … Cleveland’s Shane Bieber is the fifth Cy Young winner who had Carl Willis as a pitching coach. The others are CC Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Felix Hernandez (2010), and Rick Porcello (2016). Willis was with the Red Sox from 2015-17 … MLB did not suspend Carlos Beltran for his prominent role in the Astros scandal. But the Mets fired him as manager before he got to spring training and he remains out of work. “He’s one of my best friends. I think the world of him,” Alex Cora said. “I hope his dream comes true. Should he be a big league manager? I think so. He’s prepared. Let’s see what happens in the future.” … New Angels general manager Perry Minasian has a tangential connection to the Red Sox. His father, Zack, worked for the Sox in 2012 as the personal assistant to manager Bobby Valentine … Happy birthday to Craig Hansen, who is 37. He was a first-round draft pick of the Sox in 2005 and made his major league debut later that season after only 12 minor league games. But Hansen was not the closer of the future, as the Sox hoped. He pitched poorly and was part of the three-team, seven-player deal to get Manny Ramirez out of town in 2008. Hansen appeared in 21 games for the Pirates and was done with baseball in 2012 after a comeback attempt with the Mets fizzled out. Hansen now is a real estate investor. Daryl Irvine is 56. He was 4-5 with a 5.68 ERA in 41 relief appearances for the Sox from 1990-92. He’s now an assistant golf pro in Virginia.