As the league and union engage in some pre-bargaining media battles regarding player pay in a coronavirus-altered 2020 season, it’s worth remembering that health and safety remain the top priorities. Many of the players themselves have emphasized as much in recent public comments.
Athletics southpaw Jake Diekman is among those focused on health precautions, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. He’s potentially at risk due to his ulcerative colitis condition and is also concerned with the well-being of his young family.
Testing could offer a means of dealing with the matter. Diekman conveyed optimism over starting up a campaign. But he also noted the need to consider broader public health considerations, posing the question: “if they’re going to test us all the time, are we taking tests from people who really need it?”
Fellow lefty Sean Doolittle of the Nationals also weighed in with a long and thoughtful Twitter thread. He focused on both the many potential ways that COVID-19 could impact players — even those that don’t know of preexisting conditions — in addition to the need to protect all the other workers associated with the game.
In a longer look at multiple perspectives, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic gathered the thoughts of many players that have known risk factors in a subscription piece. The consensus seems to be that they’re ready to play with adequate precautions. But as Rosenthal also notes, for all those whose underlying conditions are known, there are many players who are dealing with health concerns of which the public is not aware. And many are also surely worrying about loved ones at home.
Still doubt the seriousness of the matter from the players’ perspective? Cardinals hurler and union leader Andrew Miller — ironically, the third lefty reliever cited in this post — tells Rosenthal it is truly the chief concern: “We’re wasting our breath with everything else if we don’t have that under wraps.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a clear financial element to the MLB-MLBPA grappling. Rosenthal notes that the players are particularly determined to hold the line on salary because of the extra health risks of playing during a pandemic.
While he’s not a current player, recently retired hurler Phil Hughes weighed in on Twitter. He says that “players won’t be strong-armed into unsafe work conditions and unfair compensation” — a characterization that drew some rebukes on everyone’s favorite forum for social interaction.
We’ve been through this millionaires vs. billionaires discussion innumerable times before and surely will keep doing so as long as Major League Baseball exists. As ever, it’s only fair to note that, while many of the athletes are extremely well-compensated, earnings are condensed to generally short playing careers and most professional ballplayers will never see big money. And even the richest players are still far less wealthy than the owners on the other side of the table.
It’s never pleasant to see relatively advantaged parties squabbling over riches, but surely players shouldn’t be blamed for generally seeking the best possible conditions and compensation they can bargain for from ownership within a given set of circumstances. Indeed, that’s just what the collective bargaining process entails. In this case, both sides of the game’s economic system have quite a lot to gain from structuring a smart resumption of play — and quite a lot to lose from a breakdown in talks or a bungled re-launch.