Since negotiating sessions have been rare despite much to do and a ticking clock, Rob Manfred and Tony Clark have time to take a plane flight together.
That actually could help the negotiations.
Especially if they see the world from 20,000 feet.
Because they have myopically (and instinctually) locked into their antagonistic comfort zones — and positions. The owners insist there will be no games if players do not take less than their prorated salaries. MLB’s first proposal delivered Tuesday was so purpose-pitch brutish that it further entrenched and bonded the players to refuse a further monetary haircut beyond the half season of salary they already are guaranteed to lose.
Max Scherzer, an influential member of the union’s eight-player executive subcommittee, tweeted Wednesday night that the players left a series of phone calls agreeing, “there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions.” The Players Association’s counterproposal, to that end, is set to call for no less money for its constituents, but more games.
Locked-in, publicly stated positions make it more difficult to produce what a negotiation needs in the end — the ability for both sides to claim victory or, at minimum, save face.
Which is why the 20,000 feet should help. Perhaps looking down, they could see a country in financial peril, a nation craving the symbolic burst of optimism that returning to regular-season games on July 4 weekend would offer. Maybe they could gain the perspective that they might not be friends, but the wreckage below has created a common enemy that should be bonding them — the virus.
For the fight over 2020 money is shortsighted. The virus is the un-gift that is going to keep on giving. Finances already are disrupted or worse for the next few seasons as MLB faces uncertainty if it will even have paying spectators in 2021, not just because of uncertainty when a vaccine will arrive, but because so many folks waylaid by unemployment or salary cuts might not have the disposable income to attend.
I don’t expect the players to throw away justified mistrust hardened over management deceptions spanning decades. I don’t expect owners to simply toss business practices that helped them become, among other things, owners of baseball teams.
But there should be room for the enemy of my enemy to be my friend. If they can’t agree to find a best solution for all within a pandemic, when would they? The common foe gives them the reason to come off locked positions, to save face even with concessions.
The sides must navigate a future together that has no road map. So they could either figure out how to build a new road — one of partnership that can grow the game out of this calamity — or they can stick to deriding each other. That will further disenchant their fans plus remove the opportunity to gain new ones by entertaining and thrilling at a time when those commodities are needed.
I have heard even with the union expecting to deliver its financial counter Thursday or Friday that the sides may pivot back to negotiating next on health and safety. Smart. That is a place in which the sides can work against the common enemy, perhaps gain fraternity and momentum.
But the finances eventually must be tackled. From 20,000 feet, will it be fully appreciated how devastating it will be to long-term reputations plus bottom lines if blessings from elected and medical officials to play this year are received, yet there are no games because of an inability to figure out short-term how to allocate what still would be a few billion dollars? Again, it is not nothing. But it is only 2020 money. The future of the game is going to be under attack from the common enemy even with cooperation — it is going to be a bottomless pit of bad if the sides stick to the standard adversarial roles.
There are new national TV deals to do, gambling revenue awaiting, international markets to create a footprint in, just to name a few areas of potential riches. The paydays (think big picture) are likely larger if the sport is viewed as healthy and the relationship between the players and owners not a constant worrisome tinderbox.
So think cooperatively this way: In 2020, everyone loses. No winners this year. Work to set up future victories by not worsening reputations and potentially putting the sport on hiatus from October 2019 to March 2021 — an absence that would generate losses that would make any short-term financial win in 2020 ludicrous.
Sure, the money this year is important. But what is most vital is the overall health of the game. The common enemy is the virus that has threatened the good times. Manfred and Clark should get to 20,000 feet. See that. Determine that leaders of goodwill can fight common enemies and find solutions that make today palatable and tomorrow optimistic.
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