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This is not the moment for baseball players to draw a line in the clay

John Romano | Whether or not MLB owners are losing as much money as they claim, the players need to realize their labor war needs to happen in the future. Not during a pandemic.

You haven’t worked for months. Your employer has paid you a small fraction of your salary while you’ve been sitting at home. That money ran dry last week, and now you’re being asked to resume work with a temporary pay cut of somewhere between 50 and 80 percent.

You are a major-league baseball player, and you have every right to be angry at this latest proposal from team owners.

But before responding, consider this:

The Oakland Athletics just announced they were going to stop providing the crummy $400 a week they had been paying to minor-league players sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic. The A’s are also furloughing their scouts. As are the Angels. Other teams may soon follow.

Related: Players call MLB’s opening economic proposal `extremely disappointing’

Meanwhile, the number of Americans seeking unemployment insurance is approaching 40 million. That isn’t theoretical. Those are real people with real children and real mortgages and no income.

Now ask yourself:

Do you really want to choose this moment to fight over riches?

The truth is, MLB players are being squeezed. While there is undoubtedly negotiating room in the owners’ proposal this week, the players are almost assuredly going to take a hit beyond the 50 percent they’ve already agreed to forfeit. And if they don’t? They get paid nothing if games do not resume.

And by the way, they’ll likely be blamed for cancelling the season during a national crisis.

Is any of that fair? No. But fair is a relative term. It’s a whole lot better, for instance, than the situation of restaurant and hotel workers in Florida. It’s better than that of retail employees who have been laid off while stores go into bankruptcy. It’s better than that of health care workers putting their lives at risk every day.

Related: Rays’ Blake Snell: ‘Just not worth it’ to play in 2020 for reduced pay

Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never been asked to take a one-year pay cut from $35 million to $8 million. Or even from the MLB minimum salary of $563,500 to $262,000.

But difficult as it may be, players need to look beyond the immediate horizon. This isn’t a long-term labor issue. It’s an ongoing economic survival issue.

Now, is it possible owners are overstating their potential losses and asking players to shoulder an undue share of the burden? Um, yeah. Instead of “possible,’’ the more accurate term might even be “likely.’’

And it’s a farce that owners seek concessions from players — not to mention communities trying to build stadiums — without opening their accounting books.

But this is not the moment for those arguments. Not when people are lining up overnight for food banks.

Related: Rays’ Blake Snell switches agents, hires Scott Boras

There is a labor war looming in another 18 months, when baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires, and players need to be cognizant of that. If they fight too hard for a greater percentage of their salary in 2020 — and risk being blamed for a cancelled season — they will have already lost the public relations battle, and their leverage, in the upcoming labor deal.

They should, instead, change this week’s narrative.

The owners have already done a masterful job of putting players on the defensive. First, they got them screaming about a revenue-sharing plan that wasn’t even offered. Now, they’ve arranged so a small group of the highest-paid players (roughly 20 percent) will be asked to absorb the bulk (more than 70 percent) of the new salary reductions, which could cause disruption in the union ranks.

So union leaders should counter by saying they are not interested in fighting owners during these precarious times. They should agree that playing games in empty stadiums will change the economic calculation and acknowledge they are willing to absorb good-faith financial losses, although the owners need to be more realistic on that front.

Related: Romano: Good grief. Are Lightning players really worrying about a first-round bye?

Most important, they should come off as sympathetic to the less fortunate.

And that means any agreement would have to come with the stipulation that minor-leaguers would continue to get stipends and that scouts and other lower-level, front-office employees would no longer face layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts. Maybe they could even set up a fund in each city for stadium workers who would be out of jobs without spectators in the stadium.

The choice may be as stark as this:

Cancel a season, get paid nothing and be blamed forever.

Accept a pay cut and take the high road on to 2021’s labor fight.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com and @romano_tbtimes.

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