Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and every other Major League Baseball stadium has been silent in 2020. Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Has there ever been less joy surrounding prospects of a Major League Baseball season?

The two groups who should care most about playing the game, the owners and players, have spent the past two months digging into their hard-line positions.

Any semblance of negotiations seemed to end last week when owners made a proposal that was quickly rejected by the players association, followed by a statement from MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark.

“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” Clark said at the end of the statement. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

Indeed, it seemed that Commissioner Rob Manfred soon would provide players with details of a shortened schedule for the end of the summer. But on Monday, Manfred told ESPN he’s “not confident” there will be baseball in 2020 “as long as there’s no dialogue” with the players association.

In truth, there hasn’t been much dialogue all along. Proposals from either side have been leaked to the media, with tweets responding to the leaks before the official presentation of the proposals, and the two sides refusing to budge from their positions.

Much of the distrust stems back to an agreement between the two sides in March, an agreement that said there would be “good faith” discussions if games were played in empty ballparks.

Owners thought players would agree to further salary reductions if that happened.

Players thought the owners didn’t provide sufficient evidence of the financial difficulties caused by empty stadiums.

Safe to say, there hasn’t been much good faith shown from either side in the process. And now the commissioner’s office says it will not proceed with a schedule unless the players drop any legal claims against the owners for violating the March agreement, or agree to an expedited grievance process.

This battle, waged in the midst of a pandemic at a time when some 40 million Americans are unemployed and millions more take to the streets in civil unrest, is setting the stage for a bigger war over the next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires at the end of 2021, meaning we can look forward to another 18 months of baseball unrest.

Can we look forward to baseball? It’s hard to imagine after all of this. Fair or not, many fans felt the players were about to be dragged into a truncated season. It’s hard to get excited about two months of baseball if you don’t think the players are excited about it.

What’s more, it’s fair to assume there won’t be much trust even if baseball is to resume this summer. What happens when there’s a spike in COVID-19 cases around a certain team? That scenario seemed much more real in the past week as several states hit single-day highs for positive test results.

On Sunday night ESPN aired “Long Gone Summer,” a look back at the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run duel that captured the imagination of the country. The summer of 1998 put baseball back on the map after a devastating work stoppage in 1994 that canceled the World Series.

Baseball will need something, some run of incredible performances and a postseason full of drama, to help overcome the bad taste these labor talks have left in the mouths of fans.

Until then, the bad taste is all we have. It’s been eight months since a meaningful game has been played, and we’ve seen very little urgency to get the sport back on the field.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN.


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