By Bob Nightengale |
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred may not want to say it, but I will.
There will be a baseball season. I guarantee it.
The Major League Baseball Players’ Association said Saturday night that it is done negotiating, with the now-powerful refrain: “Tell us where and when.’’
Manfred roared back on Monday after a conference call with team owners and issued a veiled threat toward the union, saying unless you come back to the bargaining table, there will be no season.
No season, no guarantee of at least $1.2 billion in salaries. You don’t need a Twitter account to know the union and players are furious at Manfred. You don’t need to turn on the TV or radio to know that owners are incensed with the union.
The fans, for the first time in these labor wars, are largely taking the players’ side in this one. The moment the players said they were ready to play, and are just waiting for their plane tickets, the fans echoed the refrain.
In the words of Manfred, “It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.’’
When you have 42 million Americans out of work, more than 100,000 dead from COVID-19 and a nation crying for social change to end systemic racism, baseball fans couldn’t care less about pro rata pay, national TV contracts or the loss of ticket revenue.
They just want their game back.
“The owners are 100% committed to getting baseball back on the field,’’ Manfred says.
Says Clark: “The players want to play.’’
MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem and lead union lawyer Bruce Meyer have no choice this week but to iron out the safety and health protocols, making sure they haven’t wasted two months of negotiating over salaries for nothing. Then delve into the nitty gritty of a season, how many regular-season games will be played, under what conditions and what the expanded postseason will look like.
The players don’t want a season mandated by Manfred any more than the owners. They don’t want to be seething with rage every time they step onto the field, look into the owner’s box or rip into Manfred every time they are interviewed.
It’s time for everyone to play nice and negotiate a settlement, one that neither side will find particularly satisfying, but knowing that the consequences of the sport being shut down over economics would be devastating.
It’s a shame it reached this level of distrust and hostility. When baseball shut down in March because of the pandemic, the two sides quickly reached an agreement before the scheduled start of the season.
They originally hoped they could return by April 10, even with fans, but the owners believed all along that if fans were not permitted into the ballparks, players would take a negotiated pay cut from their prorated salaries. It’s right there in black-and-white. The players, who were guaranteed a full year service time, said they never realized they may have to take a pay cut, believing they were going to be paid depending on the number of games they can play.
The players never budged from their original stance. The owners, originally wanting revenue-sharing before moving to a 70% pay cut and narrowing it to 30%, moved too slowly.
It’s now clear the players won’t take a penny less than their prorated pay, and apparently the owners are ready to accept it judging from Manfred’s comments during ESPN’s show Monday with commissioners from six sports.
“I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were going to pay the players full prorated salary,’’ Manfred said, “that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26.’’
So, there you have it — the players will receive their full prorated salaries. The question is how many games will the players accept?
Manfred could impose a shortened season of about 50 games, but he risks a grievance from the players union seeking hundreds of millions. The union last proposed an 89-game season, while the owners sought a 72-game season with 70% prorated pay.
The players want to play regular-season games through mid-October, with a World Series in November. Remember, the more games they play, the more they are paid. Yes, the players have bills to pay, too.
The owners want the regular season to end Sept. 27, with the World Series wrapped up by Halloween. They fear the second wave of COVID-19 could prematurely end the season and that networks don’t want any part of postseason baseball in November.
And, oh yeah, if the postseason is wiped out, there goes at least $900 million in national TV money.
The simple solution at this juncture is for a 65-70 game season. The players get their full prorated salary. The owners get an extra round of playoffs, which means more TV money. And the two sides can determine how much of the playoff money can go to the players, considering there won’t be a playoff pool without fans in the stands.
The way negotiations have played out in public has been “disastrous,’’ in the words of Manfred. No one has the stomach to watch this fight any longer.
The players don’t want to be bullied, and the owners are tired of being vilified, but there simply is no choice but to have a Major League Baseball season. Manfred may work for the owners, but his legacy is tied to the players.
The owners hate taking the financial hit of this season, but they can certainly survive the losses. The players know they need to stand united, particularly with the collective bargaining agreement expiring Dec. 1, 2021. Their careers are short, and those house payments aren’t going away.
There will be a season. It will start between July 20 to July 27, lasting at least 65 games, with a zany postseason that gives everyone a shot for a World Series title in a season that will be forever remembered, COVID-19 be damned.
I guarantee it.