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Max Scherzer doesn’t speak up without a calculated purpose

Max Scherzer wrote on Twitter that players had “no reason to engage with MLB” over pay cuts, a tweet that came amid ongoing discussions about baseball's return. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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It’s a popular GIF now, that moment in Cincinnati last June, when Dave Martinez left the dugout and Max Scherzer spotted him and shouted “No!” at the Washington Nationals’ second-year manager. Scherzer had thrown 117 pitches and demanded one more batter. It was easy to laugh, to add to the myth of Max Scherzer, to assume he was running on adrenaline and grit and not much else.

But that was far from the case. Scherzer knew exactly how many pitches he had left in the tank. He already had weighed his previous start’s workload, his workload that afternoon and how he would recover for his next appearance in six days. He is always thinking one, two, 25 steps ahead. He does little without calculation — save pitching with a broken nose — and that has become important to note this week, the 10th in a row without baseball, while the players’ union and MLB trade proposals for how players will be paid in a season shortened by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The 35-year-old sent out a tweet at 11:09 p.m. Wednesday, saying in 81 words that the players simply will not accept additional salary reductions. It was only his fourth tweet since his account was hacked in October 2018. Scherzer, the Nationals’ union rep and a member of the union’s executive subcommittee, is perhaps baseball’s most influential player in discussions such as this. He takes that role very seriously and doesn’t speak up for the sake of it.

“After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions," Scherzer tweeted. “We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.”

There are two major points here to unpack: The players believe that, after agreeing to a deal March 26, they shouldn’t bend to a sliding-scale structure, which would have top-paid players such as Scherzer losing more than half of their prorated salaries for 2020. The owners’ argument is that the original agreement was for games with fans and that players should take additional cuts if they are playing in empty stadiums. And at the end of his statement, Scherzer pushes for MLB and team owners to open their books, indicating that players are often ridiculed by fans and the media in these negotiations because their contracts are public knowledge.

But what stands out with Scherzer’s comments is that he made them and when he made them. After MLB instituted a handful of rule changes this spring, Washington reporters were eager to get Scherzer’s thoughts. He is one of two players on MLB’s rules committee. He has never shied away from voicing his opinion on proposed or instituted tweaks.

Nationals’ Max Scherzer signals union’s rejection of MLB’s proposed salary cuts

Scherzer, though, wanted to wait until the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal was out of the news cycle. Why talk if no one’s listening, he reasoned, and was content to track the headlines and find his opening. He chose a lazy weekday morning, calling out to a reporter from the showers, then spoke for more than 20 minutes by his locker in exacting detail.

“This feels like a good time to do this,” he said with a smile, looking around a mostly empty clubhouse. “It’s quiet enough.”

The next day, during a conversation about his role with the union, Scherzer mentioned tracking the NFL’s latest collective bargaining agreement negotiations. He was looking to learn how baseball players could best approach their CBA talks in 2021. He noticed players breaking off on their own, tweeting thoughts and even bickering back and forth about their differences.

A union needs a “unified front,” Scherzer explained, or “the whole thing can fall apart with a single tweet.” At the time, he said that as someone who rarely tweeted. Now, with much more at stake, it shows his aversion to speaking up without a purpose or without the collective voice in mind.

He did not consult union officials about tweeting Wednesday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. But his message was in line with their thoughts and how many players feel about MLB’s latest attempt to strike a deal.

Along with the sliding-scale pay cuts, MLB pitched an 82-game season that could begin around July 4 and without fans. The union has discussed proposing a longer season, possibly more than 100 games. Scherzer made it clear that more pay reductions will not be agreed upon by the union. Writing “there is no reason to engage” with those terms put the players’ intentions in bold.

That illustrates a gulf between the players and the owners, assuming Scherzer considered each word, all 81 of them, to make sure the front was unified.

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