Close pitch: Rob Manfred tries to save face, meets with union boss Tony Clark on restarting MLB talks

Perhaps all it took for Major League Baseball and the Players Association to close in – finally — on an agreement to get the game played again was a face-to-face meeting.

SHARE Close pitch: Rob Manfred tries to save face, meets with union boss Tony Clark on restarting MLB talks
Commissioner Rob Manfred (left) and players union chief Tony Clark met in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Commissioner Rob Manfred (left) and players union chief Tony Clark met in Phoenix on Tuesday.

AP

All it took for MLB and the players’ union to perhaps close in — finally — on an agreement to get baseball played again was a face-to-face meeting.

Maybe commissioner Rob Manfred can save face, after all.

It will take some doing, but coming up with a deal, the framework of which the sides were getting closer to Wednesday, would be a needed beginning.

Thankfully, for the state of baseball, Manfred seems to be trying hard to break a stalemate over money that, during a pandemic, has tossed fans into growing states of discontent and — perhaps worse — indifference.

After exasperating days of haggling through the media and talking via Zoom and other socially distanced digital means in these pandemically challenged times, Manfred and union chief Tony Clark actually met in person and developed a framework that Manfred said could form the basis of an agreement.

The sides have been at odds over how to split up the money as they try to start a pandemic-delayed season, and skeptics who’ve seen the sides at each other’s throats for far too long will believe it gets done when it’s done.

Manfred, whose image has taken a beating from the public and players after saying two days earlier that he was not confident there would be a season — a perplexing about-face after saying last week he was 100% certain there would be one — said he met with Clark at Manfred’s request Tuesday in Phoenix, where Clark has a home.

“I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today,” Manfred said in a statement. “Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the clubs to move forward, and I trust Tony is doing the same.”

So these were the most encouraging, meaningful words to come from Manfred. Both sides have thrown contentious volleys at each other in recent days with time winding down to get a deal done.

The MLB proposal, per numerous reports, would give players full prorated salaries and is for a 60-game regular season that could start July 19 and end around Sept. 27. A universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs with 16 teams are also in the works, and that part of the deal would be locked into next season, as well. That’s more than 100 fewer games than normal but six more postseason teams than the new norm.

Until now, the owners hadn’t agreed to pay full prorated salaries. In return, the players would agree not to file a grievance. Thus, a ray of hope for a deal shines brighter, as the players have not budged on the salary issue. But the players still want more than 60 games, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. So gaps still exist that need to be closed.

Players could report to a second round of spring training by late June, with most teams, including the Cubs and White Sox, expected to train in their home cities.

Games would be played, at least initially, in empty stadiums as the coronavirus continues to loom over players, coaches, trainers, staff and their families amid concerns about a second wave. Texas, Florida and Arizona are reporting increased cases, and MLB said Monday that several players have tested positive for the virus.

Players with pre-existing conditions likely would be allowed to opt out with full pay.

“Everybody wants it back as soon as possible,” Twins owner Jim Pohlad told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Wednesday. “The fans want it back as soon as possible, MLB wants it back as soon as possible and the players want it back as soon as possible. So from a baseball standpoint and a brand standpoint, I think it is really important that it gets back as soon as possible.”

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