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Dan Bickley

Coronavirus pandemic putting Major League Baseball’s flaws on full display

Grounds crew members mow as work continues to keep the Seattle Mariners' field in playing shape as the ballpark goes into its seventh week without baseball played because of the coronavirus outbreak, Monday, May 11, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Trust is gold. It’s the foundation of every partnership and championship team. It’s why Major League Baseball players are standing in wet cement.

They do not trust the owners. They believe clubs have intentionally suppressed salaries during a time of great prosperity.

Despite a boom economy, average MLB salaries have decreased slightly in successive years. Payrolls dipped for the first time in a decade. J.D. Martinez didn’t find the pot he expected at the end of his free-agent rainbow. Pitching stars like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel went unsigned for over 200 days.

In recent months, players have grown uncertain of their jellyfish commissioner, Rob Manfred, who let the Astros and Red Sox skate following a sign-stealing scandal. Manfred also referred to the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal,” and was openly challenged by the crackpot Trevor Bauer.

It took a pandemic to reveal the cracks inside Major League Baseball.

This current battle is different and dangerous. Owners are digging in their heels, unwilling to compound their short-term losses. Players are standing on principle, demanding terms recently negotiated in a March agreement. Meanwhile, the New York Post just published something of a smoking gun – an email alleging union leaders knew the current CBA was subjected to further negotiations if Covid-19 forced games without fans.

That would prove players are currently negotiating in bad faith, not the owners.

No matter who’s to blame, it’s the wrong move, at a time when our country needs professional sports and athletic heroes to lift us up, provide inspiration, and prove that we’re really in this together.

By contrast, look at the NBA, where millionaire athletes intuitively trust their commissioner, Adam Silver. They truly believe Silver is incorruptible, an empath, a conduit between players and their bosses. He is neither a tyrant nor a puppet to the owners.

During a recent teleconference, Silver asked his players to take a holistic view of the league and the future, and his players are clearly responding. It appears the season will return and a champion will be crowned. That’s what trust looks like.

Granted, baseball players have reasons for skepticism. Distrust is in their DNA. Owners have been found guilty of collusion in the past. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were forced to hold out in Los Angeles in 1966, when the minimum MLB salary was $6,000. Their evolution comes with many battle scars.

But MLB players are destined to lose this particular battle. Because baseball is no longer America’s obsession. Because current players enjoy skyrocketing salaries that’ve clearly removed them from reality. Because they are fighting over money when their health risks are mitigated far more than most professional athletes.

Unless you’re getting tagged out on the base paths, there is very little human contact inside the lines of competition. Social distancing is part of the game in Major League Baseball. Yet they are the ones objecting most.

It’s a bad look. At the worst time imaginable.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier