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OC Register: Alexander: For what it’s worth, we’ll have a 2020 baseball season

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It looks like we will have a 2020 baseball season after all, at least on the major league level.

Yay. (I think.)

After several weeks of the most unseemly back and forth possible between the Commissioner’s office and the Players Association, Rob Manfred was expected to lay down the When and Where. The details weren’t finalized as of Tuesday afternoon, but the expectation is for a 60-game season that will not include an expanded postseason, may not include a universal DH – National League fans, hold your applause for the moment – and is subject to the health and safety protocols that both sides were still in the process of ironing out.

(Remember, this past month’s jawing had little to do with player health and everything to do with player salaries and how much the owners were willing to pay for games that would be played in empty stadia.)

So as eager as Dodger fans may be to see Mookie Betts in their own very special shade of blue, and as much as Angel fans are impatient to welcome Anthony Rendon and welcome back Joe Maddon – any welcome, of course, being remote or virtual – it is best not to assume this will be a run to a championship.

There is no certainty that this season will even conclude with a World Series because, as Dr. Anthony Fauci has reminded us, the virus – and nothing else – will determine whether schedules are completed. The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told a House committee Tuesday he was cautiously optimistic that a vaccine would be available later this year or early in 2021, but also “really quite concerned” about community spread in some states, according to an Associated Press report.

In other news, the Philadelphia Phillies reported four more positive tests among their personnel Tuesday, bringing their total to seven players and five staff members infected. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Monday that 40 players and staff members had tested positive in the previous week, and teams aren’t even holding fully organized training sessions yet. Outbreaks in the Phillies’ camp in Clearwater, Fla., the Toronto Blue Jays’ camp in Dunedin, Fla., and the Giants’ camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the general spikes of cases in Florida and Arizona, led every team to close their spring complexes.

Teams have made their home parks available for workouts and will use them for any extended spring training in the next few weeks, though the Blue Jays, because of Canada’s travel restrictions, are still trying to figure out where they’ll train. But even with strict and updated medical protocols in their home parks, it is hard in this layman’s eyes to see how this sport, or any other, can sail through without being ravaged by more infections.

There was also talk over the weekend, as reported by Yahoo! Sports, that a “bubble” environment for baseball was being reconsidered and that it could take place in Southern California, where you have three major league parks, four California League parks and quality college facilities at, among others, USC, UCLA, and Cal State Fullerton.

Bubble? That’s way too large a swath of territory to be as sealed as it would have to be, and may we remind you that Southern California, even with the state’s more measured approach to reopening, has had a surge of cases in the last couple of weeks.

Even the NBA and MLS, who will attempt to resume play in the more controlled environment of the Disney sports complex in Orlando, might not be able to pull this off. One star, the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, has already tested positive, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. If key players get sick – or opt out, as LAFC’s Carlos Vela apparently will – the product will be diminished.

In Pandemic Baseball, the entire culture will have to change – no more showing up six hours before first pitch to hang out in the clubhouse, for example – and it still might not be enough. And if young, strong and healthy players are at risk (and remember, we don’t really know for sure what the long term effects are even for people who are infected and recover), the risks multiply for their families and the people those family members come in contact with. Remember, too, that a large number of managers and coaches fall in the high-risk category.

Is it really worth it to try to force this with the danger that a rash of positive tests will at least diminish the game and could shut it down? Will we wind up with a game devoid of the joy it can engender at its best? The high five, the dogpile after a walk-off hit, the simple handshakes after a victory … we won’t be seeing those for a good, long while.

It might be better to instead chalk 2020 up to the fates, and to use the break to get to work on preserving this game – and rebuilding the trust between owners and players – for 2021, 2022 and beyond?

Either way, Rob Manfred and Dan Halem, on the management side, and Tony Clark and Bruce Meyer, representing the MLBPA, should use this time to take a deep breath and start serious negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement that will expire at the end of the 2021 season. If nothing else, the last six weeks have reminded us that there’s a trust deficit between the parties, and now is a good time to work on repairing that relationship.

(I know this is a reach, but here’s a compromise: Players agree to a 50-50 split of revenue, with both a cap and a salary floor, if owners agree to open their books – totally – so there are no more secrets and no hidden revenue streams. Anyone?)

In the meantime, looking ahead, there almost certainly won’t be any big money contracts signed this winter, even among the highest-profile free agents … like, uh, Mookie Betts. If I’m the Dodgers, and I’ve got a chance to keep one of the game’s top five players, I’d offer him above market value right now – one year contract, five-year contract, whatever – to keep Betts in blue beyond 2020.

(Then again, that’s probably why I’m not running the Dodgers.)

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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