The COVID-19 pandemic has turned just about everything in this world upside-down. As the country learns to adjust to a new, more cautious, way of life, we’re starting to see a little more normalcy. As we struggle to again find familiar things, one thing is now certain: Fans will see MLB action in 2020.
If you saw the MLB Draft this week, you may have seen Commissioner Rob Manfred answer the question about the chances that MLB would play this year. His answer was short: “100%.” Manfred went on to suggest that the league had received a counterproposal from the MLBPA on Monday night and that MLB was constructing a mutually beneficial counterproposal of their own.
The Story Behind the Battle
When talk of baseball returning began, the league’s initial deal with the MLBPA contained the following: (1) Full prorated salaries for players. (2) Construct a safe schedule to allow for as many games as possible. (3) Games to be played in Arizona and/or Florida. Alternate facilities would include domed stadiums, should the Arizona/Florida plan not be adopted.
Sometime in May, MLB then reneged on that offer, offering the players a “profit-sharing” deal, as MLB’s bean counters must have fully realized the financial impact of the coronavirus. The league cited that playing in empty stadiums were going to cause catastrophic financial losses. That seems fair until you realize two things: (1) At no time were fans in the seat ever a part of the original deal. (2) There would be no profits, as if there were, that deal would have never been offered.
In short, players and the MLBPA were outraged. They demanded fair and just prorated salaries. If you don’t understand proration, it’s very simple. Take a player’s annual salary, divide it by 162 games, and whatever that number is, equates to the pro rata (per game) salary. For the sake of easy math, consider this example. If a player were to make $15M a year, his salary would be $92,592.59 per game ($15M divided by 162 games). If they played 80 games, that same player would earn $7,407,407.20 for the shortened season.
MLB and the team owners refused to budge. Statements were made, saying cancelling the season in its entirety would be less costly than prorating players’ pay. MLB finally countered, knowing that a season cancellation would be devastating to a sport that has suffered multiple black eyes in recent years. They offered fully prorated salaries, but only a 50-60 game schedule. Again, the union was outraged.
Not long ago, a player told me that the MLBPA was going to try to hold strong against the league’s proposal of a 50-60 game schedule. The players wanted 100-114 games, fully prorated salaries, with the playoffs lasting until around Thanksgiving. That would have provided for an even odder 2020 season, but it would have been interesting, to say the least.
To no one’s surprise, the league once again countered, this time with a little more authority.
MLB’s Final Offer
Rob Manfred is once again using his authority, rather than to somehow find a way to meet the MLBPA on middle ground. The same player I mentioned earlier told me just this morning that MLB was now going to force the players into what’s now a 48-52 game schedule. For whatever reason, most likely to avoid litigation, the union now appears to be ready to cave to MLB’s demands.
MLB has the ability to sue the MLBPA for damages if the players hold out. Bear in mind, MLB and the owners were ready to cancel the season, in order to avoid paying prorated salaries, yet now they’re claiming damages if a partial season isn’t played. Oh, the irony. Call it what you’d like, but I’m calling it a bunch of bull****.
So, When Will Baseball Return?
The answer to that question remains to be seen. In all likelihood, players would have to report in the next couple of weeks. From that point, they’d undergo a second spring training, which would last somewhere between 2-4 weeks. Games could then likely start sometime in mid-July.
At this point, no one that I speak with knows what the schedules would look like.
On a happy note, the league says that playing in at least some home stadiums will be a possibility, though fans would still not be allowed. The Toronto Blue Jays do have one issue to deal with, as the COVID-19 travel ban may prohibit travel to and from Canada. According to ESPN, the team would likely play their home games at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida. There are also reports stating that the team could end up sharing Tropicana Field with the Rays.
As a fan (and a guy who makes a living writing about baseball), I am eager for the return. At the same time, I hate to see the players losing out on their ability, desire and willingness to play a much more robust schedule. Mark my words, this will come back to haunt MLB in the winter of 2021, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
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