MLB’s divide-and-conquer pitch to union a non-starter

If this was the best that Major League Baseball could do to kick off Hell Week, then let’s just defer the players’ prorated payments and live to fight another day.

There will be more fights, naturally. There might not be much living for baseball, though, if the players and owners can’t find sufficient common ground in the next week or so to restart this pandemic-delayed campaign. And this sliding-scale concept, proposed by MLB to the players association on Tuesday, generated about as much excitement on the players’ side as did the “No postgame showers” suggestion.

As veteran pitcher Brett Anderson of the Brewers tweeted, “Interesting strategy of making the best most marketable players potentially look like the bad guys.”

Of course the players view this as a divisive tactic. How couldn’t they? Suddenly Gerrit Cole and his fellow baseball one-percenters find themselves with the dilemma of being either magnanimous or selfish? Yuck.

Don’t bother summoning setups that might seem comparable on the surface. The collectively bargained revenue-sharing rules, by which the big-market entity Yankees must write a check to the small-market Rays and so on, are founded on the principle of competitive balance. This idea emanates from the principal that the clubs want to save. When teams deploy sliding scales on their own employees, as the Mets recently did to control costs during the shutdown, they can do so unchecked. Whereas for teams to proffer that to a union, to instruct it how to divvy up its share of the kitty, feels patronizing.

Therefore: deferments, as The Post’s Joel Sherman first proposed earlier this month. Give the players their prorated salaries, just over a longer period of time. The players will be amenable to humane timelines I’m guessing. Shoot, players association official Bobby Bonilla has a holiday named after him for the $1.19 million he receives from the Mets every July 1 through 2035 thanks to the deferments he agreed to receive way back in 1999. You don’t think a 55-year-old Cole wouldn’t be delighted to receive a $500,000 check from the Yankees?

The owners did very well in the last round of negotiating two months ago when they signed off on a very reasonable lump-sum payment of $170 million to the players — that wound up being about $300,000 for each veteran player — as well as protection against future litigation, a shortsighted decimation of the amateur draft and language that empowered them to reopen talks in the event that paying fans couldn’t attend the games. That last part brought the parties to Tuesday’s dialogue, and a deferment would indeed provide the owners with some breathing room that acknowledges the intake lost by no fans at the ballpark — while at the same time acknowledging the concessions made by the players so recently.

It’s time to cut a deal. The two sides have about a week to virtually shake hands in agreement if they want to begin the season in early July. That should be enough time for two antsy parties to realize how badly they need each other for self-preservation. For the owners, in particular, to look at themselves in their antique mirrors and wonder whether it really would be worth it to not play games at all rather than play them while losing more money than they want.

James Ingram once sang, “I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.” If the sliding scale served as MLB’s best, it most certainly wasn’t good enough. It’s time to take the path of almost-least resistance and maximum satisfaction. Deferrals shouldn’t be deferred any longer, and as the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association take steady paths toward restarts, neither should baseball’s revival.

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