Only Rob Manfred can speak to the amount of heat he felt, of vitriol he absorbed, of urgency that loomed over him as he traveled to Arizona to meet up with his counterpart Tony Clark in an attempt to revive the comatose 2020 restart talks.
Damn, though, “Tell us when and where” had to shake him up at some level.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, arguably lost in the wilderness since the death of its executive director Michael Weiner in 2013, is on a roll. It mobilized in the wake of multiple underwhelming offers from Manfred and offensive, tone-deaf public comments by three owners (of the Cardinals, Cubs and Diamondbacks) who complained that they didn’t make as much money as we all assume. It galvanized last weekend. And on Tuesday, it downright electrified social media with its elegant mantra, espoused by superstars:
“Tell us when and where.”
“It’s a simple message, but it’s the truth,” Yankees reliever Zack Britton told The Post on Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Every single person I’ve been in contact with is ready to play.”
Clark, Weiner’s successor, hosted Manfred in his home state Tuesday and the two men found common ground on an arrangement that finally landed the players their prorated pay, a stance on which they hadn’t budged since these talks began, albeit on a 60-game schedule; the players want more. We’ll see now if the emboldened Clark can advance these signs of progress to completion.
Recently, the players have had Clark’s back. On Saturday evening, Clark jolted these slower-than-molasses talks, a back-and-forth of ideas that found little common ground, by declaring his side to be done with the dialogue. “It’s time to get back to work,” Clark’s statement concluded, then touched on Manfred’s right to unilaterally implement a schedule as long as the players got their prorated salaries. “Tell us when and where.”
That led to Manfred’s embarrassing about-face Monday, when he slammed the brakes on his “100 percent” vow (of a season occurring) just five days after he made it, and the in-person summit on Tuesday. While it’s anecdotal evidence, I can’t ever remember so much public support for the players’ side. Manfred and the owners deserve some credit for that via their missteps, yet that momentum surged on Tuesday when the game’s best player Mike Trout retweeted Clark’s statement with the key words: “Tell us when and where!!” As of Wednesday evening, that tweet had received over 40,300 likes.
Soon, 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper retweeted Trout with the same sentiment: “Tell us when and where.” Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Pete Alonso of the Mets, retweeted Harper with a “Tell us when and where.” New Yankee Gerrit Cole, the game’s highest-paid pitcher, retweeted the PA’s statement and added the “Tell us when and where!” Several other players followed suit. It became the rare good kind of contagion.
“To me, it just happened naturally,” Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller wrote in a text message. “The genuineness of it is why it worked so well and rings true.”
The author of this line won’t take credit, the PA preferring to spotlight the players’ enthusiasm, and Manfred, a labor lawyer by trade, defused the literalness of the slogan by pointing out that he need not tell the players when and where until certain conditions were met. The commissioner most of all wants to avoid a grievance by the players that the clubs didn’t negotiate in good faith, an option the players would waive if this framework goes into action.
Nevertheless, the players have spoken. They have tweeted. They have pushed back against the owners more effectively than anyone could have anticipated. Soon enough, they might just learn when and where to go so they can return to work.