By Bob Nightengale |
Major League Baseball and the players union took another ugly step in their contentious relationship Monday night when the union formally rejected MLB’s final proposal to delay the season by a month, prompting the two sides to publicly display their differences in statements.
The players, without submitting a counterproposal to MLB’s original offer Friday or a modified version Monday, announced they will open spring training on time Feb. 17 with full intentions of playing an uninterrupted 162-game schedule.
MLB, seeking a delay to shorten the season from 162 games to 154 games, while still offering full pay, was left frustrated and angered by the union’s decision.
The game, for all intents and purposes, will now revert to the same rules from before the pandemic. No expanded postseason. No universal DH. No seven-inning doubleheaders. And no starting extra innings with a runner on second base.
Considering the animosity between the two sides, who can blame fans for fearing Armageddon next winter when the collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1.
“On the advice of medical experts, we proposed a one-month delay to the start of spring training and the regular season to better protect the health and safety of players and support staff,’’ MLB said in a statement. “A delay of the season would allow for the level of COVID-19 infection rates to decrease and additional time for the distribution of vaccinations, as well as minimizing potential disruptions to the 2021 season that currently face all sports.’’
The union, however, insisted that there was no reason to reduce the schedule, or cut back the off-days, proving last year during the shortened 60-game season they could play with minimal interruptions.
“We do not make this decision lightly,’’ the union statement read. “Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help players and clubs meet these challenges.’’
MLB, which also was hoping to delay the start of the season to provide more time for fans to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and thus attend games in greater numbers, modified their original proposal Monday morning in an attempt to alleviate the union’s concerns that commissioner Rob Manfred would have expanded power to unilaterally halt the season for healthy and safety concerns. A paragraph on Manfred’s power was removed from the proposal, and clarified that players would retain their original rights under the Basic Agreement regarding pay and service.
The union, after spending much of the day discussing it with members of their executive sub-committee and player representatives, overwhelming rejected that proposal, too.
“Although player salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB’s proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season,’’ the union said in a statement. “The MLBPA Executive Board and Player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and [Monday]. The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its clubs to prepare for an on-time start.’’
MLB’s proposal sought a 154-game season in which spring training would start March 22 and opening day on April 29, with the regular season ending one week later than scheduled on Oct. 10 and with the World Series ending around Nov. 10. It included a universal DH with an expanded postseason to 14 teams.
It was the third time the union rejected the expanded postseason proposal, believing it would not incentivize teams to spend, while making it clear they no longer are interested in discussing the concept until the next CBA negotiations.
“This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons,’’ MLB’s statement read, “without impacting any rights either the players or the clubs currently have under the Basic Agreement or Uniform Player’s Contract for pay and service time.
“In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our clubs to report for an on-time start to spring training and the championship season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols.
“Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball. We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, club staff and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.”
It’s possible the seven-inning doubleheaders and runner on second base in extra innings could be included in the agreements on healthy and safety protocols, but considering the combative negotiations between the two sides, who knows if they can agree on anything.
The only thing we know is that spring training will start in two weeks with pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona.
Like it or not, play ball!