Major League Baseball has a chance for redemption this week if owners and players, terribly far apart in recent counter proposals, somehow can reach an agreement to save the final half, or a bit more, of the 2020 season.
On the surface, that would seem a splendid idea considering the sickness, fear, anger, violence and horror — elements created by the rage of the coronavirus and the outrage over the death, while in police custody, of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith has a different perspective, though. Hope for Smith is being replaced by reality, almost harsher by the day. A rush to restart baseball now might not the best idea, he told the Post-Dispatch on Monday.
“Personally, it would be great and people need an outlet,” the longtime Cardinals star said. “But because of the pandemic and stuff, it makes it very, very tough. I don’t know this is the right time to try to do that.
“It’s like going to a restaurant. They may open up but if something bad happens to a person, that could be it for (the restaurant). One bad incident. That could be the end for them.
“The same thing for sport. If something goes bad and people come up with this COVID … as horrible as it sounds for me to say it … this year may just be a washout.
“That’s the reality. And now with all of this other stuff going in, it’s just unbelievable. It’s just not the right time. This place needs a cleansing.
“I think we have too many issues we’re trying to deal with in the country. It’s as chaotic as it’s ever been for our generation.”
Smith is no stranger to unrest. As a 10-year-old in south central Los Angeles in 1965, he and his family went through the Watts riots in which 34 lives were lost.
“We slept on the floor because of all the sniping and looting going on,” Smith, now 65, said.
“The National Guard set up right across the street. That was a long time ago but history has a way of repeating itself. And here we are again.
“That was crazy and, though I’m not in the midst of it now, it brings back so many terrible memories.
“It’s just too chaotic. As much as I’d like to go to the ballpark and enjoy it, it’s just a bad time.”
According to the players’ union’s proposal Sunday to the owners, the schedule would be 114 games, rather than the 82 Major League Baseball originally had projected, and the players would be paid 1/162nd of their 2020 salary for each game played.
The season would start on June 30, a few days ahead of when MLB would start it, and would wrap at the end of October, a full month after the owners had targeted it to end before a month of postseason play involving 14 teams. MLB has said it is worried about a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks in the autumn and doesn’t want to be playing into November.
The owners, who recently proposed a “sliding scale” of payments to the players, don’t want to be paying the players prorated amount for even 82 games, as they initially said they would do, let alone 114. And, according to Jeff Passan at ESPN, commissioner Rob Manfred is prepared to offer up a season of about half as many games as the players want — somewhere in the 50-game range — but the players would be paid on the prorated basis.
The players’ proposal, especially, doesn’t seem to offer much time for spring training if it would start about June 15 or so. Two weeks and maybe not even three weeks don’t provide enough time for players to be in optimum shape, let alone pitchers who likely need nearly a week more than players do anyway, as happens in regular spring training. Arm and leg injuries are almost sure to multiply.
Players would have the right to opt out of the season in the players’ union plan and would receive major league service time but no salary. Those who meet qualifications for high risk, such as Cardinals righthander Jordan Hicks, who has Type 1 diabetes, or reside with a person who qualifies as high risk, would receive salary and major league service.
If the postseason, lucrative to the owners because they may have little or no regular-season revenue, would have to be cancelled played because of another wave of the coronavirus, the players’ association proposal calls for $100 million in salary to be deferred with interest, payable in November 2021 and November 2022. Only players whose original 2020 salaries were $10 million or more would be subject to having money deferred.
Smith does concur that baseball on TV might be good.
“Anything is better than what we’ve got,” he said.
“Whether you (play baseball) safely is the question. These are the things they’re wrangling with. ‘How do we do it and do it effectively, where we don’t put anybody’s life in jeopardy?’
“It’s a real chance you’re taking — with all of it. Before, it was just coronavirus. This other stuff has just compounded it.
“I’m sitting back and watching this and thinking, ‘This just might a year to regroup and get some things figured out.’ It’s ugly out there.”
Smith was as aghast as anyone to watch the video of a Minneapolis policeman with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“Anytime you see a loss of life and people had a chance to watch it first-hand, a guy actually died. . . it was eerie,” he said. “A guy put his knee on another man’s throat and choked him out. We watch MMA on TV and a guy does that and taps him out, but the other guy is still alive. (Floyd) is dead.”
Not unlike others, Smith is dismayed that many of the protests over Floyd’s death have turned violent. But like the proud African-American he is, one who has been through Watts, he endorses a need for America to raise its collective, indignant voice.
“We can get our lives squared away and put the focus on some of the things that are going to make this a better place for everybody,” he said. “It’s sad about what’s happening around the country. And I’m not even going say around the country. It’s the world.”
Maybe baseball, and other sports, should take an extended pause, Smith said, and try again next year. He has been through two strikes and a lockout as a player and he said, “You’ve got to keep your fingers crossed that (the fans) will miss it enough that they’ll come back to it. The real people – the real baseball fans – will come back. They’ll be ticked off. They’ll be mad. But, sometimes, things are out of our control.”
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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