This week in baseball: It figures to be huge

MLB Proposes 82-Game Season

Baseball’s biggest week of the year is here. Some would say it is baseball’s biggest week of any year in a quarter century, but we try not to trade in hysterics here.

Suffice to say: IF THE PLAYERS AND OWNERS DON’T FIND SOME COMMON GROUND THIS WEEK, WE’RE ALL DOOMED. DOOMED I TELL YOU.

We’re coming off a long Memorial Day weekend in which both sides of baseball’s great divide managed not to say anything insensitive or insulting. A very good sign.

Now on to the immensely complicated business of coming up with the financial, logistical and medical compromises necessary to carry on even a mutant, abbreviated season. This week has been identified by some of those plugged into the negotiations as a pivotal one. Considering all the details that come with such a launch — structure of the season, where to play, all the levels of health precautions, how much to pay — I’ve never been more glad to be only a nattering voice coming out of distant foul territory.

More than encouraging signs, baseball needs now to produce tangible agreements. June is less than a week away, a handy deadline for anyone seeking real proof there can be baseball in 2020. Time to demonstrate that the game is important enough to those who oversee it and those who play it to move heaven and earth to keep it breathing now. If it’s not, then why should the rest of us care?

On Tuesday, the owners delivered their latest proposal on player pay, which included the new twist of a sliding scale, where the highest-paid players would take a bigger hit than the less well-paid, mostly younger, among them. Gone was the 50-50 revenue sharing plan the owners floated after the players had agreed to take prorated salaries based on the number of games played. At least there is no hint of a salary cap to the latest proposal, those two words being the dirtiest in the players-union dictionary.

Instead, the current strategy would be to stir up a little class division in the ranks. Looking to protect the stars, the union certainly won’t fall in step behind this proposal, although the response is pending.

These still are very preliminary volleys, but time is no friend here. No time for a long baseline exchange of proposal and counter-proposal. No time for a siege.

Given that these two sides have a hen-and-fox relationship where trust seems impossible, there is much hard bargaining to be done in a short time. Might some kind of deferred payments be of interest to labor in the next round? This is what passes for intrigue in baseball now.

As former Braves pitcher and player rep Tom Glavine said recently, the players are the ones who will face fan scorn if agreement proves elusive. Never mind that they have just as much right to guard their bottom line as do the owners. Don't know that I'd trust every chart and estimate coming from that side either. You try to find the heartbeat of the Braves owner, Liberty Media, let alone the soul.

Already in hand is a weighty plan to address health concerns, one so exhaustive that some players even see it as an overreach. The sides can debate such topics as spitting and showering and coming to the park already dressed, like they used to do it in Little League. Minor details. Nothing happens, though, until money matters are settled.

All around baseball, other sports are making creaking and groaning sounds indicating they are getting off the couch. NASCAR is back at it. The PGA Tour is set to resume in two weeks. The NBA ponders a restart in Florida in July. On Tuesday afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that league’s plan to get back to skating and slashing.

This likewise should be a most significant week for the erstwhile national pastime. Baseball can’t just come up throwing. It will require another dose of spring training, making the need for a working agreement all the more urgent, unless they’re looking at a World Series Christmas.

We should get a better idea this week whether baseball can summon the imagination and the will to carry on. Or be left behind those sports that do, a position with which it has grown too familiar.

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