It’s not going to be easy for the players to counter the spin work being put in by Major League Baseball and its owners, but Thursday evening saw the players’ union taking a firm stand with a statement from Tony Clark. The union leader issued a statement that clearly spelled out a desire to return to the field for the fans under terms that don’t include further slashing salary or limiting the season to 50 games.
The owners have said it’s all a matter of safety, that a second wave of coronavirus could cancel the postseason if it runs past October, but it’s really just a matter of limiting how much they pay in salary. The players simply want a chance to compete in as many games as possible, which makes the season more legitimate while also allowing them to earn more of the money they were originally due.
In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.
Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.
This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.
Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.
Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.
With pretty much every other professional sports league around it announcing resumption of activities, MLB now finds itself painted even more tightly into a corner. With neither side willing to budge, however, it’s going to take someone just saying “F— it” and ruining the soles of those expensive loafers. I guess that means it’s the league that should swallow the bitter pill of concession.
Commissioner Rob Manfred could well go down as the worst of his colleagues in history, at least of the last quarter century or so, unless he’s able to broker a deal to bring baseball back this season. And not by unilaterally imposing a truncated 50-game season that won’t make anyone truly happy. Convincing the owners to push out to 100 games or so would make him the hero no amount of pace-of-play contrivances ever could.
The path is there, it’s just a matter of clearing away a little debris to enable them to resume play. Both sides want it, but there are egos and investments standing in the way. There’s also the matter of understanding how this arrangement will impact future labor relations.
“We want to play. We always have,” Andrew Miller, a member of the MLBPA’s eight-man executive subcommittee, told The Athletic. “We also won’t lose sight of our principles and rights. Players are engaged like I’ve never seen before. Every day through this, each of those factors is reinforced. We hope to be on the field as soon as possible.”
Even though this may fall on deaf ears, or eyes as the case may be, I feel compelled to state once again that this isn’t about greed for the players. It’s about what they agreed to and what they anticipate after the 2021 season, when they’ll have to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. This isn’t Mike Trout refusing to play for less than a certain amount of money, it’s the collective group of players ensuring they aren’t taken further advantage of in the future.
That’s admittedly difficult for a lot of people to grasp under normal conditions, let alone during the fallout from a pandemic that has cost millions of people their livelihoods for at least a short period of time. Baseball players make millions to play a child’s game and they’re incredibly fortunate to be able to do so, no one is disputing that. But they play it within a $10 billion industry in which owners are exempt from antitrust regulations and need not open their books to let anyone know what’s really happening with revenue.
Viewing this as a binary choice based simply on maximizing salary in 2020 would be a mistake, one far too many people seem to be making. Comparing it directly to a normal job would likewise be a mistake, since Major League Baseball operates in a unique financial ecosystem that has little in common with how you and I get by. It’s not about how much you pay for a ticket or a beer, either.
In any case, this is the smartest move we’ve seen from the players yet. They are taking the ball and putting it squarely back in the owners’ court, which is where it should have been the entire time. I have hope for a new agreement here soon, if only because we’ll need one in order to get the season started, but I sincerely believe it should be something far closer to what the players want than what the owners have threatened.