Major League Baseball players begin reporting for spring training Wednesday, with a shortened 60-game season beginning later this month. It caps months of contentious negotiations between players and owners to start the season amid the pandemic. The MLB used its right to implement a season where the players receive 100 percent of their salary for each game played.
On Monday, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona addressed the media, and WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said he had some tough words about the state of the league.
The meaning of the game
On the press call, Francona said players and owners lost the meaning of the game during the last several months, as the two sides haggled over salary negotiations and future labor deals, rather than getting back to work for the fans.
"He said, as an industry, we do such a bad job of conveying what the game means to us," Pluto said. "All this bickering makes it sound like both sides hate the game and wouldn't mind shutting it down. We are missing a chance to let people know what the game means to us, how important it is and how it matters."
Finding a spokesman
The 61-year-old Francona has been the Indians manager since 2012. Among his many records during that time is a World Series berth in 2016. He won two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox before that.
Pluto says baseball needs spokesmen like Francona to re-engage fans.
"When I posted my [Cleveland.com] column about [Francona] on Facebook, several people wrote 'I'm really mad but I've never been mad at Terry Francona,'" he said.
Francona's health problems
Francona said he will be in the dugout with his players during the season, despite being considered at high-risk for contracting the coronavirus.
Francona has had a myriad of health concerns over the years. Pluto said he often wears jackets or sweatshirts due to poor circulation problems and has had more than 20 surgeries thoughout his career, including a cardiac ablation procedure in 2017.
"As he said, 'I'm probably one of the most compromised, high-risk people going [into the 2020 season].' But he said, 'I'd be miserable if I didn't do this.'"
Players opting out of the season
Meanwhile, some players have opted out of returning due to COVID-19 concerns. The list includes the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross from the reigning champion Washington Nationals, Mike Leake of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies' Ian Desmond.
Zimmerman, the original Washington National who won a title last fall and was likely ticketed for a bench role, recently detailed health problems his mother is facing and having young kids in an AP diary series.
"I think that's fine," Pluto said. "Frankly, most of these guys have made enough money in their life if they want to skip the season for 60 games, they could skip it easily."
But Pluto has a message for those who will be playing:
"If they come out like a bunch of whiny brats about this, it's really going to look bad. Or, if they come out and say, 'Whatever it takes, I want to play. We need to be on the field. Fans need to see us and we play with passion,' it's going to show."
So far, no Cleveland players have opted out of MLB's return.
The season is set begin July 23 or 24.