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MLB players and owners are inching toward a 2020 season, but the next 2 weeks are critical

Plus, results from this week’s SB Nation Reacts survey

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This past week, MLB owners presented to players proposals on health and safety and finances for a possible 2020 season.

There has been a lot of mistrust between players and owners in recent years, and of course the clock is ticking on the current collective-bargaining agreement, set to expire after the 2021 season.

According to Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post, owners and players are both working on ways to get a season up and running over the next few weeks, but time is growing short:

The union, after disseminating the [health and safety] document to its members, responded Thursday with a series of questions, suggestions and requests for clarification on issues including testing frequency, protocols for positive tests, the presence of on-site medical personnel, protections for high-risk players and family members, access to pre- and postgame therapies and sanitization protocols. Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is among the players who have expressed reluctance to play without daily testing.

One person familiar with the dialogue said Friday that the sides had already made significant progress on the health and safety issues, less than 24 hours after the union had sent its response.

Beyond all of that still needing to be resolved, Sheinin also notes that local political leaders and health officials in all the locations baseball is normally played will have to sign off on MLB’s plan. Governors in New York, California, Florida and Texas have already given tentative approval for baseball in empty stadiums in their states, but such has not been the case in Illinois, though Gov. J.B. Pritzker has indicated he hopes baseball can return in Illinois, as has Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Also in Sheinin’s article, one health official advised caution:

“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.”

So there’s another potential roadblock. Still another is the financial dispute between owners and players. Players contend they signed a deal for pro-rated salaries based on the number of games played; owners say that agreement was only for games with fans and they want a different deal for games in empty ballparks.

But Sheinin notes:

Though a specific path through this dispute is difficult to discern, there is a growing belief within the game that the sides will find a way to bridge their differences — if only because they have to. No one in charge on either side wants to be remembered as the people who lost a year of baseball over a money squabble.

“If we get to that point,” a high-ranking baseball official said, referring to gaining clearance from government and public health officials to move forward, “then we’ll have a season. Because everybody’s motivation is to have one.”

Let’s hope so. I think we’d all like to see some real baseball soon. Meanwhile, we as fans might be ready for baseball to return, but fans say they aren’t exactly ready to return to baseball games.

In the most recent SB Nation Reacts survey, fans were asked if they were MLB players, would they feel comfortable playing the 2020 season. Roughly two-thirds of respondents said that they would play:

However, when asked if they were ready to return to the game themselves and watch a game at the ballpark, things changed dramatically. Despite being ready for games to start, only 42 percent of fans said they would attend a game in person this year:

Frankly, I’m surprised that number is as high as it is. To me, it wouldn’t seem safe to go to a baseball game until there’s a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, and that would probably mean no fans at any ballparks until 2021. It definitely seems like a longshot that fans would even be allowed to attend this season. There’s been some talk about a small number of fans permitted at games in 2020, spaced for social distancing, but that doesn’t seem realistic. Any MLB games in 2020 will likely only be seen by fans on TV.

While fans are overwhelmingly ready for the game to return, they don’t necessarily trust the man in charge. Less than 40 percent of voters have faith in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred going forward. (You should not be surprised at this.) Manfred’s popularity was in trouble before the pandemic hit, as he received heavy criticism for his handling of both the Houston Astros scandal and various comments made during the offseason, particularly his remark that the World Series trophy is just a “piece of metal.”

Manfred’s popularity has taken such a hit, he’s now seen as a worse commissioner than his predecessor, Bud Selig — and Selig was pretty unpopular himself:

You can have your voice heard in the SB Nation Reacts survey of fans across MLB. Each week, we send out questions to the most plugged-in Cubs fans, and other baseball fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.