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The dispute between MLB owners and players is now getting ... confusing

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Commissioner Rob Manfred’s latest missive to the MLBPA raises more questions than it answers.

Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

MLB Players Association chief Tony Clark was reportedly on a conference call with player representatives Sunday when he received an email from Commissioner Rob Manfred. It read, in part, per Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

“Given the Covid developments, I understand that the players are concerned that the 2020 season will be truncated beyond the agreed upon number of games (for example, we agree to play 60 and can only play 40),” Manfred wrote. “If that were to happen, I would be prepared to eliminate the 2021 components of the deal. That would mean that we would not get the expanded playoffs in 2021 and the DH rule would revert to the current rule (DH in AL, no DH in NL).”

Well, now I’m confused. Manfred and the owners have been consistent in one thing during the player/owner dispute, if nothing else: This is all about money.

So if they eliminated expanded playoffs in 2021... wouldn’t that bring in less money?

What are we really talking about here? Manfred’s email continued:

“I really believe we are fighting over an impossibility on games,” Manfred wrote in his email. “The earliest we will be ready for players to report is a week from Monday, given the need to relocate teams from Florida. That leaves 66 days to play 60 games. Realistically, that is the outside of the envelope now.”

Ah, ha. So the longer this dispute goes on, the calendar dictates the schedule. The latest offer from owners to players appears to center on 60 games, with no room to expand to even 70, which is what was in the players’ last offer. If MLB hadn’t stalled...

Now, let’s be clear. Manfred’s email did mention COVID-19, and there’s no question that the virus is going to dictate quite a bit about where and when Major League Baseball can be played this year, if at all. Friday, with outbreaks of the novel coronavirus reported in multiple training camps in Florida and Arizona, MLB closed all those facilities until at least today to give them a deep cleaning:

Oh... wait. Look at the date on that tweet, March 12. So we’re essentially back to square one, cleaning of team spring training facilities, which first happened more than three months ago.

Here’s where the players apparently stand as we enter the last nine days of June, per Rosenthal and Drellich:

The players are weighing: Would they be better off playing 50 games — the approximate length of the season if the commissioner implemented a schedule — and retaining the right to file a grievance? Or should they play 60 and surrender the right to a grievance while making other concessions worth an unknown but large amount of money?

The clock is ticking, and outbreaks of the virus aren’t making this any easier. Other sports attempting to start up this summer and fall are having the same issues. The NBA’s plan to have a “bubble league” in Orlando, Florida could run into those problems:

In at least one recent call with high-level team executives, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has acknowledged the spiking numbers in Florida. Team sources described the general tone of that call, including the questions asked of Silver on it, as tense. Another called Silver’s tone “resolute but somber.” He expressed a resolve to go on — a confidence in the NBA’s bubble concept — while recognizing the seriousness of the coronavirus spike, sources said.

And there have been multiple outbreaks of the coronavirus at various colleges during football team workouts, calling into question whether that season can be played safely.

So I’m forced to conclude the following, from this tweet I posted in Sunday’s article:

Discussions of a 2020 MLB season should never have centered around money. Of course, that had to be part of the talks. MLB, like every business in this country, has suffered a serious loss of revenue. But baseball, and other revenue-generating sports, aren’t like other businesses, built on generations of fan loyalty and love for local teams that can’t necessarily be measured. I’ll just leave this here as I did last Friday:

... and repeat what I followed that up with:

Without all of us — baseball fans — supporting teams, buying tickets, concessions, souvenirs, memorabilia, subscribing to various services to watch games — Major League Baseball doesn’t exist. Period, end of story.

It’s our money they’re spending, in the end, even it comes from TV rights fees, regional sports networks or corporate sponsorships. In the end, all the billions of dollars MLB has been awash in for years simply aren’t there for the sport at all without us, baseball fans.

We get it, revenue’s been lost, costs have to be cut in some areas.

But in the end, the pandemic is going to decide whether Major League Baseball is going to be played this summer. All the parties concerned ought to be more cognizant of that.