MLB, players’ union are working to salvage season, and the next two weeks are critical

Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post: May 22, 2020

A two-tiered negotiation unlike any in the roughly 150-year history of Major League Baseball or the 54-year history of the MLB Players Association proceeds this weekend on parallel tracks, with nothing less than the fate of the 2020 season at stake. The issues: how to play baseball during a global pandemic and how to divvy up a shrinking pile of money.

Both carry immense challenges — in the case of the former, how to maintain the spirit of the game and some semblance of personal freedoms while keeping everyone healthy; in the case of the latter, how to overcome deep philosophical differences and distrust built up over half a century of contentious coexistence.

And time is running out.


But while none of the health issues appear insurmountable, the larger issue may be threading this needle through a dense patchwork of state and municipal guidelines regarding social distancing and mass gatherings that contain high degrees of variance and that can change based on the spread of the virus. It is also clear that, even if the owners and players agree on conditions for starting the season, it doesn’t mean public health officials will.

“I think you’d end up with a lot of infected players and other personnel,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit think tank National Center for Health Research and a Washington Nationals season ticket holder, when asked what would happen if baseball moved forward under the terms laid out in MLB’s first-draft plan. “If it isn’t done right, not only would people get sick and potentially die, but it would shut down the season. I don’t see a way around it. It would be a miracle if they followed those instructions and it didn’t end up infecting people.”

Zuckerman, who holds a PhD in psychology and was a post-doctorate fellow in epidemiology and public health at Yale, has viewed parts of the proposal and said her chief concerns were twofold: First, by merely discouraging and not outright banning dangerous behaviors, such as socializing in groups while away from the stadium, players might not take the risk seriously enough and endanger themselves and others.

“Men in their 20s are not the most cautious group,” she said. “You have a problem when you only say, ‘We’re encouraging this behavior,’ rather than getting everyone to sign a contract for what you can and can’t do. Language matters.”

Secondly, Zuckerman said MLB’s proposal to isolate only the player (or other personnel) who tests positive, as opposed to every person that individual came into contact with, runs the risk of seeing a larger outbreak spread in the time between testing the larger group and getting those results back.

“I understand a 14-day quarantine [for the larger group] could result in no games for that period,” Zuckerman said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended quarantine period for people who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. “But you can’t just quarantine the person who’s positive and tell everyone else, ‘Go ahead and keep playing.’ ”

For the union, another major issue yet to be resolved is how to treat players who decide not to play — whether because they’re at higher risk due to preexisting medical conditions, because they have family members in that category or simply because they believe the risk outweighs the benefits. Among the questions: Do they get paid? And do they accrue service time toward eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency?


Read the full article here.