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MLB’s threat to cancel season deepens clash with ‘disgusted’ players –



TORONTO – Take a step back from the rage triggered by commissioner Rob Manfred essentially threatening to cancel the 2020 season, and breathe for a minute.

That collective pulse of anger was pretty intense, and suddenly it feels a lot like it did back in 1994, when the ongoing threat of a salary cap forced players into a mid-August strike that eventually led to the cancellation of the World Series.

Those were dark days. That darkness is back in a depressing way, remarkably in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, not solely because of it.

Just brutal.

Still, let’s stay rational and dispassionate, since emotion is the enemy of good decision-making, gospel among the game’s executives these days. Going on about how “these (expletives) are gonna burn it down,” as one text message I got read, can blind you from what really matters.

And what really matters from Manfred’s comments to interviewer Mike Greenberg during ESPN’s ‘The Return of Sports’ special Monday, isn’t that he’s “not confident” there’ll be a 2020 season, and that “I think there’s real risk, and as long as there’s no dialogue that real risk is going to continue.” (Even though, inconceivably, that walked back his draft day boast that, “I can tell you unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year.”)

No, the crucial stuff is in here, and it explains exactly where we’re at right now: “I have been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were going to pay the players full pro-rated salary, that we would get some co-operation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26. Unfortunately, over the weekend while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union’s top lawyer was out there telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule, as they requested, they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars. Obviously that sort of bad faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances.”

For clarity, we’ll run that through the lawyerese-to-English dictionary: The union’s threats to file a grievance are preventing us from setting the schedule.

Or, more precisely from Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

So, to review, owners are now willing to pay players their pro-rated 2020 salaries under terms of the deal the sides reached in March as part of a season length they determine, but are demanding a promise from the players that they won’t litigate a claim that MLB is violating an obligation to stage as full a campaign as possible.

And given that they’re worried enough to demand such an assurance, clearly the owners believe the players have a case with enough merit to pose a substantial risk.

Simple, right?

If your head isn’t spinning, then ponder this — the parties are basically at the same spot they were before the weekend when, unable to reach agreement on how many games the season should be, the union threw up its hands and said to MLB, impose your season, we’ll be there.

This, then, is just a way to force the union back into negotiations, which is an excessively generous way to describe what’s taken place thus far. Only now, there’s even more acrimony and mistrust in the process, the opposite of what you need to stage a season amid the highly contagious coronavirus back on the rise in multiple spots across the United States.

To some extent, things are in the players’ hands right now, and let’s give union head Tony Clark credit for cleverly fending off the initial attacks from ownership and stewarding the players into a position with some control, as Cincinnati Reds ace Trevor Bauer laid out so well.

Now, though, isn’t the time for Clark to overplay his hand and test whether owners are willing to follow through on Manfred’s veiled threat to cancel the season.

There’s been a middle ground in the 70ish-game range all along and it’s time for the bridge-builders on both sides to find each other and pull everyone back from the precipice.

Players have every right to be, as Clark put it in a statement, “disgusted,” and point out that “this latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning.”

“This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from players,” he added, “and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”

In that way, all this has been illuminating for the union, revealing how much power the hawks among MLB owners currently wield. That information will come in handy when the current CBA expires after the 2021 season, as will the indoctrination of an entire generation of players never before pushed to the brink.

The cost will be far too high, though, if the season is lost. Both sides will already pay dearly for wasting the goodwill a smooth return into a barren sports landscape would have offered, and the legions of new fans that could have created.

At this point, having squandered the chance to generate millions down the road, they need to stop fighting over relative pennies in the present.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely, no question about it,” Manfred said of the damage caused by the public dispute. “It shouldn’t be happening and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”

At least there’s one thing everyone can agree on.

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Nick Nurse keeps open mind as Raptors head to unpredictable Orlando bubble –



As his team heads to the great unknown to defend their NBA championship, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has given up trying to plot and plan and micromanage his way through a pandemic.

Instead he’s keeping an open mind and planning to roll with punches no one may see coming as the NBA gathers at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando to complete the 2019-20 regular season and start the playoffs.

The Raptors will be one of the last of 22 teams to move into what the league hopes will be a relatively antiseptic bubble, free from the coronavirus when they take a bus from where they’ve been training in Naples, Fla.

Normally coaches have a working script for almost every minute of pre-season training so as not to waste a precious moment and to set the right tone for what’s to follow.

These aren’t normal times. The Raptors have had their typical pre-season, back on October (and even that involved a side trip to Japan); they’ve had a month of individual workouts after the play was stopped March 11 due to the pandemic and they’ve just completed two weeks in their own mini-bubble in Naples where they’ve been doing individual work but together. Now they have three weeks at Disney World before they play eight so-called seeding games beginning Aug. 1.

“I would say my planning is very lean or [fluid], to be honest with you,” Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday. “I want to see kind of where we are at the first day or so before I kind of say ‘I see where we are at, I see where we are going and now I’m going to have to get down and chart the next week or 10 days out’. And I don’t really know where we are at. I mean I can see individually. I think we look really good, but what will that translate to when we get back to calling plays and running defences and doing some things? Where are we going to need to go from there?”

Nurse is already prepared for some diversions.

Several of his players — not to mention the team’s coaching and support staff — are parents and in the early stages of what could be a minimum of seven weeks away from their families. Nurse himself has two little ones three and under.

So, while a typical training camp environment is designed to leave the outside world behind for a little bit and become immersed in all things basketball, when hoops are all there is going on in the ‘bubble’ some outside world distractions will be welcomed and encouraged.

“For me, I would say that it starts with conversation, when you’re bumping into Fred [VanVleet] or Kyle [Lowry], and you’re asking ’em how are the wife and kids, and what are they doing, and when was the last time you talked to them,” said Nurse. “There’s a lot more of that going on than I would say normally would happen.

“It’s not like we don’t do it normally but there’s a lot more now because we’re all showing pictures and whatever. I just think from my standpoint, it’s another one of those things you’d be more lenient on.

“Like, I don’t know, what’s an example? Well, we’re getting ready to start a meeting and right as that happens, somebody says ‘oh, man, my kid’s FaceTiming me, and you say take it, go out in the hall and take it and we’ll wait for you’ or whatever.

“I think sometimes hooking up with schedules and kids, sometimes when those FaceTime calls come, you’ve gotta take ’em and drop everything you’re doing.”

Nurse can relate.

“Like, when I left, I have a three-year-old kid… he didn’t quite understand how long I’m gonna be gone. I told him I’m gonna coach some games, and he said well I’m gonna wait right here for ya.

“I hope he’s moved from that spot because it’s gonna be a while.”

As far as basketball is concerned Nurse remains bullish on his team, which will carry a 46-18 record into the restart — second-best in the East and third in the NBA — even though it will be four months since his team has played a game or even practised 5-on-5.

Nurse has been in the gym watching his charges go through solo workouts with the aid of the Raptors coaching and development staff and likes what he sees.

“I would imagine with everybody there’ll be a little bit of rhythm adjustment from the game,” he said. “Conditioning, rhythm and remembering sets and all that kind of stuff, that’ll take some time as well.

“But I look, if you walked in the gym this morning and watched them workout you wouldn’t have known they missed two months without touching a ball, I don’t think.”

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Leading the way has been Raptors engine Kyle Lowry, the veteran point guard who sets the culture for a team that refuses to take a step back.

“He is looking awesome. I mean like really awesome,” said Nurse. “He is really working hard. He is going at it. He comes into camp always in great shape, full of energy and feisty and all that stuff and he is. He’s going at it. He’s working extremely hard very early in the morning in all facets — his conditioning, his shooting. He’s good. He looks good and his workouts have been excellent.”

Those are the knowns, the things Nurse can rely on as the strangest season in NBA history hits another milestone moment. His team is healthy, his players are prepared and his floor leader looks ready to rock, even as they navigate a new normal without the familiarity of home or family.

Nurse does have one plan in mind when the Raptors take the practice floor for the first time — likely on Saturday.

He’s going to let’em play. It’s been a while.

“I know that I’m sensing they really want to play basketball. I don’t think they want to do drills. So it may be a little different where you drill short, scrimmage long early just to get that feel and then go back and drill longer on things you think you need to do.”

And if there’s a FaceTime call from a wee one? Everyone will adjust.

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NBA Prepared To Stop Season If Cases Become Widespread Within Bubble –



The NBA is confident they can secure the bubble from positive COVID-19 cases, but Adam Silver said on Tuesday that any significant number of positive tests inside the protected campus could result in a second shut down of the season.

“I think we do have the ability to trace, of course to try to understand where that positive case came from,” Silver said of any positive cases inside the Walt Disney World campus. “We can actually analyze the virus itself and try to track whether if there is more than one case, if it’s in essence the same virus and same genetic variation of the virus that is passed from one player to another or two people have gotten it on the campus independently. So those are all things that we are looking at.”

“Certainly if we had any sort of significant spread within our campus, we would be shut down again.”

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MLS forced to rejig tournament schedule in wake of more positive tests –



COVID-19 has infiltrated the MLS is Back Tournament bubble again with five members of Nashville SC testing positive and another four producing inconclusive tests.

As a result, Major League Soccer has postponed Nashville’s match against Chicago Fire FC, originally planned as one of the Florida tournament’s two openers Wednesday.

MLS said it will “continue to evaluate Nashville SC’s participation” in the tournament pending results of additional testing.

The news comes one day after FC Dallas was forced to withdraw from the World Cup-style tournament in the wake of 10 players and a coach testing positive for the virus.

Orlando City opens play Wednesday against expansion Inter Miami CF at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in the Orlando area. The Montreal Impact play the New England Revolution on Thursday.

Toronto FC’s opening game against D.C. United has been moved to Sunday morning from Friday evening in the wake of TFC’s late arrival at the tournament. Toronto was supposed to land last Friday but was delayed when additional testing was required in the wake of one member of the travelling party experiencing some symptoms.

All the tests came back negative and the team flew Monday.

The Vancouver Whitecaps open July 15 against San Jose after their opener against Dallas was scrapped.

On Tuesday, Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said his players were doing well.

“The guys who tested positive are feeling strong. There’s been some symptoms. There’s been some things that we need to take care of for their health and safety and well-being.

“But they’re feeling strong. And some of these guys are already at the later end of their recovery. So it’s all really positive. They’re building strength. They’re getting through this adversity.”

“We’re going to be stronger after all of this,” he added. “Soccer is the last thing on our minds. It’s about (the) will to get healthy and then soccer’s going to naturally come back to us.”

Gonzalez said what happened was inevitable and there was no perfect time to hold the tournament.

“Maybe the perfect or the safest moment is in two years,” he told a virtual conference call. “But is the league going to even be in existence in two years? Probably not if we had to wait that long.

“So when is the right moment? I don’t know. I just know that it could have been yesterday and it could be tomorrow. But it had to happen. At some point there needed to be a calculated risk and we all needed to go for it.”

He said he had no regrets, calling it a “good learning lesson” for the league and other teams and a “great moment for strength and unity for the (Dallas) players and the team and their families.”

Gonzalez noted the virus is so new there really is no expert on it.

“This has existed for six, seven months. Tell me who the expert is?” he said. “The expert is after analysing this for five to 10 years. That’s the expert.”

“What we have to trust is that we’re trying our best,” he added.

The league said two of the Nashville players got their confirmed positive results on the weekend with three more getting the news Monday night. The four others were to undergo further tests in the wake of their inconclusive test results.

One member of Columbus Crew SC has also tested positive.

All 26 teams have now arrived in Orlando with all the players having undergone testing at the league’s host hotel.

Testing results from the five clubs that arrived Monday, including Toronto and Vancouver, were to be available later Tuesday.

The tournament is slated to run through Aug. 11. It marks the league’s first action since play was halted March 12, two weeks into the season, due to the global pandemic.

Toronto’s first game will now be a 9 a.m. ET start rather than 8 p.m. as originally scheduled, meaning two of its first three games will be morning kickoffs.

Friday’s game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders will now be played at 9 p.m. ET rather than 10:30 p.m.

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