Locked out baseball players plan to make a counteroffer to management on Monday, 11 days after clubs gave the union a proposal when the snail-paced negotiations resumed following a 42-day break. The players’ association asked Major League Baseball on Thursday to schedule the negotiating session. There is dwindling time to reach an agreement in time for spring training to start as scheduled on Feb. 16. The scheduled March 31 opening day is increasingly threatened, given the need for players to report, go through COVID-19 protocols and have at least three weeks of workouts that include a minimal number of exhibition games. Players don’t receive paychecks until the regular season, and owners get only a small percentage of their revenue during the offseason. When owners made their new proposal on Jan. 13, players reacted coolly and said they would contact MLB when they were ready to respond. Baseball’s ninth work stoppage, its first since 1995, started Dec. 2 following the expiration of a five-year labor contract that left players unhappy. The sides differ on luxury tax thresholds and rates, arbitration eligibility, revenue-sharing level, postseason size, amateur draft changes and other ways to address the union’s allegation of improper service time manipulation by clubs.
Nationals sign ex-Sox OF Rusney Castillo to minor league deal
Former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals earlier this month. Castillo, 34, signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox in 2014, but never really panned out, appearing in 99 games over three seasons, batting .262 with seven home runs, last appearing in the majors in 2016. He was taken off the big league roster so his salary would no longer counted toward their payroll for luxury tax purposes. But that loophole was closed in the next collective bargaining agreement, so if he was added to the big league roster, only to be outrighted again, his average annual salary would still be taxable. So Castillo spent his remaining time with the organization playing for Pawtucket, where he played 467 games and hit .293 with a .761 OPS and 42 home runs . . . MLB is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues. MLB is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level. MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.
Bulls G Lonzo Ball undergoes knee surgery
Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is expected to be out six to eight weeks, the team announced Thursday. Ball has missed three games since a 42-point loss to Golden State last week. Coach Billy Donovan said the team had switched up his treatment, hoping he would avoid surgery, after he didn’t respond well to the initial regimen. Ball had the same knee scoped in 2018 when he was with the Lakers. Acquired from New Orleans in a sign-and-trade deal, Ball has been a major contributor in Chicago’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. He is averaging 13 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists. A disruptive defender on the perimeter, he is sixth in the league in steals at 1.8 per game. With Ball out and star Zach LaVine (sore left knee) sidelined, the Bulls are leaning more on Coby White and rookie Ayo Dosunmu.
Nets G Kyrie Irving fined $25k for profanity
The NBA fined Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving $25,000 for cursing at a fan in Cleveland. Irving’s comments to the fan during the second quarter of Brooklyn’s 114-107 loss on Monday were captured on video. Irving used profanity in reminding the fan that he helped the Cavaliers win the NBA championship in 2016. The NBA has been trying to clean up profanity among players, fining Irving’s teammate Kevin Durant and New York’s Julius Randle recently for using obscene language during interviews . . . Joel Embiid tied his career high with 50 points in just 27 minutes, leading a dominant third quarter that carried the Philadelphia 76ers to a 123-110 victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night. Embiid also had 12 rebounds and three blocks while making 17 of 23 field goals and 15 of 17 free throws. The four-time All-Star and MVP candidate played 58 seconds of the fourth quarter . . . Nikola Jokic had 49 points, 14 rebounds and fed Aaron Gordon for a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left in overtime for his 10th assist, giving the Denver Nuggets a 130-128 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
BC women upset Notre Dame
Senior guard Cameron Swartz scored a game-high 28 points to help the Boston College women’s basketball team rally from a 14-point third-quarter deficit in a 73-71 upset victory over No. 19 Notre Dame (13-4, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) at Conte Forum. Taylor Soule added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Eagles (13-5, 4-3 ACC), who posted their first win over a ranked opponent since a Jan. 30, 2020, triumph against No. 14 Florida State . . . Noah Fernandes scored 24 points to help the UMass men’s basketball team (8-9, 1-4 Atlantic 10 Conference) snap a four-game losing streak with a 91-85 conference victory over Saint Louis in Amherst, Mass. Javohn Garcia had 15 points, Greg Jones added 13 points and Trent Buttrick had 10 points. Gibson Jimerson tied a season high with 23 points for the Billikens (11-6, 2-2).
New NCAA constitution ratified
NCAA member schools voted to ratify a new, pared-down constitution,, paving the way for a decentralized approach to governing college sports that will hand more power to schools and conferences. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, 801-195, and was the main order of business at the NCAA’s annual convention in Indianapolis. NCAA President Mark Emmert said in his state of college sports address the new constitution was more of a “declaration of independence” that will allow each of the association’s three divisions to govern itself . . . An arbitrator ruled UConn improperly fired former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie and must pay him $11,157,032.95 within the next 10 business days, said Ollie’s lawyer, Jacques Parenteau, who called the ruling from arbitrator Mark Irvings a “total vindication” for Ollie, who was fired in the spring of 2018 after the school reported numerous NCAA violations in his program . . . Leland E. Byrd, a former athletic director at West Virginia and the Mountaineers’ first 1,000-point scorer in basketball, has died, the university announced. He was 94.
ESPN opts out of sending reporters to Beijing
ESPN has joined the increasing number of media companies that will not be sending reporters to next month’s Beijing Olympics due to continued concerns about rising COVID-19 cases worldwide and China’s strict policy about those who test positive. Executive VP Norby Williamson, who is in charge of ESPN’s event and studio productions, said in a statement the network had planned to send four reporters to China but they will now join a larger group covering the Olympics remotely. ESPN will report Olympics results as well as airing features, but the network is under video usage restrictions since NBC holds the rights. ESPN can’t air highlights until after NBC’s live coverage ends, which most days will be at 3 a.m. EST. ESPN news programs may only use up to six minutes of highlights and can’t air any that have been available for more than 72 hours . . . FIFA president Gianni Infantino assured players during talks that a reshaped international calendar will tackle their workload and congested seasons, while backing away from heavily pushing biennial World Cups. The meeting in northern England was convened by the English players’ union, including Manchester United players Paul Pogba and Juan Mata, and Manchester City duo Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze. The Professional Footballers’ Association leadership has previously called FIFA’s desire to double the frequency of World Cups “a source for concern,” reflecting wider criticism across Europe of the plans that have stalled amid opposition . . . A dog was killed and another ran off after a pickup collided with a sled team operated by a musher identified as Jaye Foucher of New Hampshire, who has been living in Willow, Alaska, since August, training for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Her team was struck Wednesday on the Parks Highway near Willow, about 75 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers reported . . . Bob Goalby, who won the 1968 Masters without having to go to a playoff when Roberto De Vicenzo infamously signed for the wrong score, has died. He was 92. Goalby’s death Wednesday in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois, was confirmed by the PGA Tour and by Bill Haas, his great nephew.