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Not even a coronavirus pandemic can stop greed in sports

Owners and players are giving baseball a black eye by haggling over money during COVID-19.

The Rays’ Blake Snell pitches during a spring training game in February in Port Charlotte, Fla.
The Rays’ Blake Snell pitches during a spring training game in February in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One might think that the coronavirus pandemic would have slapped the greedy inclinations right out of major-league baseball players and team owners. One might think that more than 84,000 U.S. deaths from the disease would have put life in perspective for adults involved in a kid’s game. One might think that money wouldn’t matter so much now to a bunch of millionaires and billionaires.

If one thinks that, one might be a complete idiot.

Baseball players are complaining about owners trying to pull a fast one on them with revenue splits as they negotiate to start the season, probably because the owners usually are trying to pull a fast one. And the owners surely are wondering why the players’ union is being a pain in the butt under such trying circumstances for the nation. Answer: The players’ union is always a pain in the butt.

With the country craving sports, the two sides are arguing over who gets what if and when the season starts in July, a plan the owners recently approved. The players are worried that the owners are using the pandemic to introduce a salary cap to the game, a non-starter for the union. The arguing might eventually give way to peace and an agreement, but it’s almost beside the point. While the virus was bringing the world to its knees, these rich knuckleheads were fighting over dollars.

I don’t believe Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell speaks for all baseball players, but his outlook is so outrageously self-centered that it’s a nice starting point for our discussion of sports and money, which are conjoined at the decimal point. Snell said in a recent video interview that he would not play for a reduced salary this season. He said he’s worried about his health, given the COVID-19 outbreak. He should be.

But for him to tie it to money is so … so … baseball.

“Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go, for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof,’’ said Snell, who was scheduled to make $7 million this season. “It’s a shorter season, less pay. I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK? And that’s just the way it is for me.

”Like, I’m sorry you guys think differently, but the risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that? Like, you know, I’m just, I’m sorry.”

You want to talk about a bad look? You could have two noses and three eyes and still look better than this guy. Lest you believe Snell is a lone wolf, Phillies star Bryce Harper said: “Somebody’s gotta say it. At least he manned up and said it. Good for him.’’

Here are words to live by: If you’re looking for greed, big-time sports will never let you down. There’s something comforting about that. It’s nice to know that, in a constantly changing blur of a world, there’s something you can count on. You can also count on death.

I’m ashamed to admit that part of me thought there was no way in the world the two sides would get bogged down in money. Surely, I thought, everyone involved would realize how bad financial wrangling would look in this climate. What’s the word everyone uses now? Optics. Right. Arguing over money would be terrible optics.

Forgive me my naiveté.

There are still plenty of concerns over how baseball can return safely in this scary new world. Is it realistic to think that teams can hold the virus at bay while teammates are around each other daily and competing against other players? Is it possible to keep a clubhouse free of germs? Isn’t that like trying to tell a 3-year-old to stay out of the mud? What happens when someone tests positive for COVID-19? Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle was correct when he pointed out recently that the players union and Major League Baseball officials had skipped right past health and safety issues in favor of conversation about logistics. Read: money.

They can’t help themselves. They just can’t.

But they need to know there could be a price to pay if they allow their haggling to become protracted. They would be wise to remember how angry fans were after the 1994-95 strike and how that anger led to empty seats for several years.

Baseball fans want baseball back. That’s the prize. But they’d like it to be safe for everyone involved. And they’d like it without the greed that pervades professional sports.

Just this once. It’s not asking too much, is it?