Rob Manfred needs to change the conversation in MLB battle: Sherman

“If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” – Don Draper

Those negotiating the restart of the baseball season define Mad Men. They are crazed in allegiance to their position and fury at each other. Plus, they are relentless sales people diligently advertising views of their accuracy and the other side’s mendacity.

I have failed so far during the pandemic to meet my goals to learn Spanish and read a book a week. My accomplishment stands at finally binge watching “Mad Men”; I know, sad. But there in Season 3, Episode 2 is Don Draper — played by avowed baseball fan Jon Hamm — espousing what Commissioner Rob Manfred’s strategy needs to be now.

Manfred has the power to impose a season as long as he pays players their prorated salaries. He should do that now for as many games as his bosses, the owners, can tolerate. Recriminations and bad mouthing will follow. But by the end of the weekend, my suspicion is the conversation will have mainly switched to players showing up at spring training, which teams are best positioned to prosper in a sprint season — hey, how about getting more money by having Sprint sponsor the season? — and digesting whatever new rules are being implemented and who they benefit.

Manfred needs that change in topic.

This commissioner’s history, even when he could impose, say, a pitch clock, has been to hold back and try to reach agreement with the Players Association. The same has been true about attempting to restart the game — better to have an agreement that limits problems later. Except the sides have a March 26 agreement and are still fighting about what it says about how players are paid.

The public fury from that has steeled the worst labor environment since a cancelled World Series in 1994. These are not cave drawings that need interpreting, but rather English words on paper. Yet both view the document differently and what it allows them to demand. Owners feel players should not receive prorated pay for a season if a season is longer than roughly two months. The union has dismissed management claims of financial distress and argued players should not have to cover owner losses when salaries did not rise concurrently in recent years when revenues soared.

This fight is a few months old, most recently expressed in back-and-forth proposals Monday and Tuesday that still left a sizable gap. The players called for prorated pay over an 89-game season, the owners offering 50 percent guaranteed for 76 games with another 25 percent available if the playoffs are completed.

Manfred doesn’t want to step on a showcase event, the draft on Wednesday and Thursday, but the bad blood is crushing all that is good right now.

They could keep inching along, further soiling everyone involved and the game’s image. But the positions have been delineated. So Manfred should now say what the owners are willing to do game-wise for full prorated salaries, whether that is 48 or 52 of 54 games. Set a deadline for Friday 5 p.m. And then see if the incremental movement of Monday and Tuesday and a real deadline spurs a compromise in the 60s or 70s for games. Would the players take less, for example, if the difference was, say, part of a 10-year project to donate jointly for social causes? This would be a last chance to find commonality amid the pandemic, amid the social unrest, with an eye on not dragging the game’s reputation down any further; which harms the future for both entities.

Either way this phase would be done by Friday, the weekend is for the blowover and next week is for getting prepared for spring training. The ideal July 4 weekend has been missed and both sides will have to forever be party to not playing the most games possible; for being unable to summon statesmanship when the game never needed it more.

But both sides’ last proposal had a July 10 regular season start date, which still beats the NHL and NBA to real games and the NFL to training camp.

A season of 48-54 games stinks. But not playing at all — to be absent for 18 months — is worse. Games provide a forum for elite players and indelible moments and to stop using the word “prorated.”

By this time next week, imperfect as it is, we could be arguing if a four-man or six-man rotation is best in a sprint, do huge stars mean more or less in a shorter season and could an out-of-nowhere team win it all in this dynamic. The topic, flawed, would still be baseball.

And it is time to change the conversation to that.

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