Are you really going to do this Major League Baseball? Now? Under these circumstances? Can you really be this tone deaf? Sadly, the answer might be yes.
The question, of course, surrounds whether we are going to see a standoff between the owners and players on how the money will be handled in MLB’s plan to return to play in early July from the coronavirus pandemic. The owners provided their approval to MLB’s proposal on Monday, but that means nothing until the players association signs off on it. That’s where it figures to get ugly. Talks with the union were scheduled to start Tuesday.
The proposal includes plenty of one-season rule changes, including an 82-game schedule, a 14-team postseason (instead of 10) and a universal designated hitter. The expectation is most players won’t hesitate to go along with those alterations. The sticking point is the 50-50 split of revenue for the 2020 season.
That’s almost certain to be a non-starter for a traditionally strong union that has what are expected to be contentious negotiations with MLB coming up after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2021. Any use of the words revenue sharing will be seen as a first step toward owners trying to introduce a salary cap, something the NFL, NBA and NHL all have and something the MLB players association will avoid at all costs.
The fact the owners haven’t ever completely opened up their books makes it difficult for anyone to know if their cries of poverty are real or simply a negotiating ploy. Right now, that doesn’t matter. There will be a time for this battle between the two sides but not now. Not with the country having been largely shut down for months and with so many out of work or taking pay cuts.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) May 12, 2020
Baseball has the opportunity to be the first major sport to return in America and create nightly programming that so many of us have missed. No fans in the stands? We’ll worry about that later. Just the opportunity to turn on the television starting in July and watch the Twins play would be a welcome diversion from our current reality. And if it takes 3 hours, 5 minutes to complete, these days what else do we have to do?
It’s the responsibility of the owners and players to work out a one-summer agreement to make sure that when it’s safe to return games can be played in empty stadiums. The owners will claim that without fans their agreement with the players in late March to pay them a prorated allotment of their 2020 salaries based on games played isn’t possible because of a loss of revenue. The players will say that was the agreement and the owners should stick to it.
You can fall on either side of the fence and many will. Some will call the owners cheap and others will claim players are greedy. Both things are likely true and at this point neither matter. There hasn’t been a work stoppage in baseball since the 1994 season was halted by a strike in mid-August — that led to the World Series being cancelled — and play did not resume until late April 1995.
It took MLB years to recover from that strike and a big part of that recovery was the steroid-filled summer of 1998. If you think fans were mad 25 years ago, just imagine what the reaction would be if MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s league decides fighting over dollars is more important than providing fans with entertainment in the year of COVID-19?
So how does this issue get resolved? This is one where both the owners and players are going to have to agree that no one is going to be happy and one side might take a financial bath. Is that perfect? No. But given what has been going on in this country, no one wants to hear or read about billionaires fighting with millionaires.
One would hope both sides realize this. But until there’s a resolution the fear is this grand game might suffer a black eye from which it might take years to recover.