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Perhaps honoring Jackie Robinson’s memory is the last way to save most of the major league season.

The owners and the players can use a unifying force, and if one of the most important Americans and baseball’s sacred date cannot provide that connective tissue, well, then wake me up for Opening Day in May or June or …

Because the factions were not able to get to the finish line yet again Wednesday, though the finish line was so close. They ran 25 miles of a marathon and did not complete the race. That led to commissioner Rob Manfred announcing that two more series were taken off the board. That makes four in total, and that means Opening Day, in MLB’s view, cannot come before April 14.

If next week the league eliminates a fifth and sixth series, that will traverse April 15. And April 15 is the 75th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in the majors. To not be on the field that day — with every player, as they annually do, wearing Robinson’s No. 42 — would raise disrespect and disregard for both sides toward the game’s fans and the institution itself. At that point this negotiating circular firing squad will have done unforgivable damage.

So is the real, real, real deadline this coming week?

Remember that last year, citing its medical experts, MLB asked the union to delay spring training and the regular season by a month so COVID infection rates would decrease to allow games to be played in a safer environment. Within that request, MLB offered a 154-game schedule beginning April 29 with players being paid for 162 games. In return, MLB asked for a universal DH and playoffs expanded from 10 to 14 teams. The players rejected.

Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson
AP

Still, there is precedent for an offer that retains much of the schedule with no lost pay or service time with some further horse trading. And both sides could find their better angels to get there by citing the importance of properly honoring Robinson.

Yet, that might be optimistic. The sides had every reason to collaborate against a common foe — COVID — in 2020 to get back on the field with little rancor. Instead, they fought and insulted each other, and played out their distaste and mistrust publicly. Those bad feelings rolled right into the players’ rejection of the month delay last year and these contentious collective bargaining negotiations.

If the sides could not unite around a virus that was killing people across the globe, will they find the kumbaya to honor Robinson on the diamond anniversary of his historic entry into the majors?

It all grows more complicated with each failure to seal this deal. The owners probably save 2022 dollars with games canceled in April, maybe in May, too, because they might send out more in player salary than they take in, notably because of lighter attendance in those early-season months. It is shortsighted against the damage the institution would absorb, but there could be enough infuriated owners willing to be shortsighted with games lost already. The players forfeit about $20.5 million collectively each day that is not played and then not made up, according to a study by the Associated Press.

Players wanting to be made whole financially and in service time would add issues and, thus, complications. And these negotiating teams do not need more issues and complications considering where they are with the current pile and missed deadlines.

Rob manfred
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred canceled two more series of games on Wednesday.
Wilfredo Lee

Maybe that is because the union did not really believe in the deadlines. MLB said last week when it canceled the first two series that it was ironclad, but then in its next offer it said it could restore the two series and the full 162-game schedule. MLB described the negotiations as “deadlocked” after a negotiating session Sunday, yet a few days later made offers that belied the statement. The union believes it was told during talks that MLB was making its last and best offer — only to make subsequent offers.

By holding strong, the union got the owners to make considerable favorable steps toward the players in areas such as minimum salaries, size of a newly created bonus pool for pre-arbitration players and higher luxury-tax thresholds. The players can continue to see whether time will produce even more owner concessions.

But that does not come without peril. At this point, unless both sides are willing to add a bunch of doubleheaders or push the postseason toward Thanksgiving, the calendar says louder than MLB what is possible. You can make up two lost series within the confines of the regular season. But four? Or more?

Tony Clark
Union head Tony Clark
LM Otero

And with lost games comes that lost pay and lost service time, and by the time the sides finally agree maybe so much is lost for both sides, including more goodwill with fans, as to make any gains far less.

So in consecutive weeks, the factions negotiated long and hard and made a lot of movement toward each other, but ultimately did not get to a deal. Last week, MLB announced the cancellation of two series and then this Wednesday two more. Next week would come layered with more than the loss of games and money. Robinson is arguably the most important, respected figure in the game’s history. To not honor him on the field in the regular season would be quite a statement by both sides.

Seventy-five years after he elevated baseball — and the nation — can Jackie Robinson save a season?

Source: NYPOST

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