12:25 PM ET

  • Buster OlneyESPN Senior Writer

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    • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
    • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
    • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

By saying he will not play this season for a reduced salary, Rays starter Blake Snell triggered a cacophony of angry responses the other day — a tidal wave of social media backlash, talk-show lectures (delivered from here, among other lecterns) and, under the radar, expressions of disgust from some of Snell’s peers who are more affixed to national job losses that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic.

But in a weird sort of way, Snell’s blunt but earnest summation of how he and others in the union feel (“He ain’t lyin’,” said Bryce Harper) may work for the MLB Players Association, much in the same way that Randy Johnson’s fastball over John Kruk’s head in the 1993 All-Star Game raised some questions about the Big Unit’s predictability. There’s been an assumption that the players would participate if the prospect of playing games emerged in this year of the coronavirus, but Snell’s words underscored the doubts about this, at a time when the industry is hemorrhaging financially, with the river of revenue dry.

The union leadership has leverage in this moment, an unusual and probably unexpected opportunity to help the players well beyond this year — if the leadership plays this deftly, thinks big picture and focuses on more than just 2020 salaries. And if MLBPA chief Tony Clark plays this poorly, as he did in the 2016 collective bargaining negotiations, the leverage pendulum will swing sharply and the union could be driven to its most vulnerable position in a half-century.

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