Opinion: Commissioner Rob Manfred has no choice but to mandate 60-game 2020 MLB season

Commissioner Rob Manfred has no choice.

It’s ugly. Too ugly. Too acrimonious, with the labor negotiations filled with accusations and allegations, played out publicly in the streets.

Manfred is expected to mandate a 60-game season, starting July 27-29, after the players association soundly rejected MLB’s latest proposal, 33-5, in a vote by their executive council.

Yet, he told MLB owners that he had no plans to implement a season Monday or even Tuesday, a high-ranking official told USA TODAY Sports. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Manfred’s delay leaves a slight crack open in negotiations, but after nearly three months of negotiations, it seems highly unlikely they can suddenly reach an agreement in the next few days.

“The full board reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible,’’ the Major League Baseball Players Association said in a statement. “To that end we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of healthy and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days, and we await word from the league on the resumption of spring training camps and a proposed 2020 schedule.’’

The players will show up to their home cities for workouts, undergo several days of testing for COVID-19, and begin a three-week training camp starting in early July.

Who knows, maybe the pandemic will shut things down once they’re all together?

Maybe COVID-19 will continue to pitch a no-hitter and make sure that no sport starts, even with baseball being a non-contact sport.

But they will at least try.

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In the midst of a pandemic raging across the world, with a country trying to finally change 400 years of racial injustice, the two sides never came close to a resolution.

And even though there’s a scheduled season, the bitterness has sucked the soul out of any joy.

“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been,” Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted. “Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid 19 already presented a lose-lose-lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”

Oh, sure, there will be games, but there’ll be hostility.

Gone are the expanded playoffs.

Gone are the enhanced broadcasts.

Gone will be anything but minimal cooperation.

There will be grievances exchanged, with each side accusing the other of intentionally sabotaging negotiations.

There will be players ripping owners.

There will be owners ripping players.

And there will be no fans in the stands, instead sitting at home, trying to figure out how to feel about the season.

It will be beyond ugly, with a free-agent market that will be virtually non-existent with teams snubbing players, blaming their economic losses.

There will be long-term damage caused by the impact of the stalemate.

You think this was nasty, just wait until they start negotiating toward their next collective bargaining agreement, which expires Dec. 1, 2021.

Hello work stoppage, it’s baseball again.

The game has badly suffered enough since we last saw it played, shut down on March 12 with the pandemic.

Thousands of employees have been fired or furloughed, with others taking massive pay cuts. The minor-league system has been gutted. The amateur draft has been disemboweled.

Fans likely will be kept out of stadiums all year, guaranteeing the fifth consecutive year of an attendance decline.

Players will lose about $2.5 billion in wages.

Every team will lose hundreds of millions.

The game is back, but who knows how it will look.

Play ball, like it or not.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale.

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