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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Whether baseball is played this season hinges on an extremely contagious virus that is unlike anything we've ever seen. But next in line is whether MLB owners (billionaires) and players (mostly millionaires) can settle an economic dispute.

Why it matters: If the 2020 MLB season doesn't happen because of safety or logistical concerns, that's understandable. But if money is the issue a year after MLB grossed a record $10.7 billion in revenue, it would be a PR disaster — and the sport might never recover.

  • Even if we never reach that point, the longer this infighting goes on while a historic number of Americans are out of work (36 million jobless claims in the last two months), the angrier baseball fans are going to get.

The backdrop: In late March, MLB and the MLBPA struck a deal that guaranteed players prorated salaries based on the number of games played. From the union's perspective, this ends the matter and no new negotiations are needed.

  • But the March agreement was reportedly "contingent on playing in front of fans at regular-season ballparks," per AP.
  • It's now obvious fans won't be in the stands if and when baseball returns, so owners want to renegotiate since they'll be losing billions of dollars on ticket sales, concessions and parking.

The state of play: The two sides are in their second week of a contentious back-and-forth about a potential 2020 season. The hope is they can reach an agreement by June 3, with players reporting to spring training on June 10, and the season starting around July 1.

  • May 11: Owners approve a plan that includes an 82-game regional schedule and universal DH, expanded rosters (30-man active roster and 20-player taxi squad), an expanded postseason (14 teams instead of 10) and a 50-50 revenue split for players and owners.
  • May 14: Rays pitcher Blake Snell makes headlines when he says on a Twitch stream that he will sit out the season if there's a 50-50 revenue split, suggesting the risk of contracting COVID-19 is "just not worth it."
  • May 18: In documents obtained by The Associated Press, owners claim they will lose $640,000 per game without fans in attendance.
  • May 20: The above number was calculated by MLB, so the skeptical union has requested a slew of documents, which will be presented tomorrow, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.
"As is almost always the case when there is a work stoppage in sports, the players will get the brunt of the criticism. They are more visible, and the average fan finds their salaries stunning. But here's a fact: The owners are far more wealthy and ... won't be putting their health at risk."
— John Feinstein, WashPost

The bottom line: As baseball weighs a return to the diamond, owners and players are embroiled in a very public argument, starring "leaked" documents, a so-called "smoking email," and a viral Twitch video.

Go deeper...Special report: Baseball in America

Go deeper

Aug 27, 2020 - Sports

NBA players decide to resume playoffs after boycott

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

NBA players will resume the playoffs, perhaps as soon as Friday, after boycotting Wednesday night's games in a stand for racial justice spurred by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, ESPN reports.

Why it matters: The Milwaukee Bucks' historic decision to sit out their game set off a chain of events across professional sports, with games postponed across the WNBA, MLB and MLS.

Aug 28, 2020 - Sports

More sports leagues join Black Lives Matter protests

An empty Oracle Park in San Francisco. Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The sports walk-out first started by NBA players after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., continued through Thursday, with even more leagues joining the historic strike.

  • NBA: All three playoff games were postponed for the second straight day, but players met and voted to resume the season by this weekend, likely on Saturday.
Aug 27, 2020 - Sports

NHL postpones 4 playoff games in protest of Jacob Blake shooting

Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The National Hockey League postponed four Stanley Cup playoff games scheduled for Thursday and Friday after players on all eight remaining teams decided not to play in response to the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Why it matters: The NHL drew criticism for not joining the NBA, WNBA, MLS and some MLB teams in suspending competitions or practices on Wednesday, before the player-led Hockey Diversity Alliance asked the NHL to push pause on games Thursday.