MLB’s commissioner Rob Manfred has walked back his initial statement about his confidence that MLB will play in 2020. After an awful Monday, Manfred has no clue what comes next.
Less than a week ago, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declared on ESPN that baseball would be played in 2020, he actually said he was “100 percent sure” the league and players to work out an agreement for the season.
And while on the surface that seemed reassuring, it doesn’t quite explain what exactly Manfred was saying there, even in the wake of him walking it back.
I’ll let Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich from The Athletic explain:
Under the March agreement, Manfred is empowered to determine the number of regular-season games as long as the league pays players their full prorated salaries and tries to play as many games as possible. But he is not required to start the season unless specific conditions are met, including the removal of restrictions on mass gatherings and travel throughout the United States and Canada. The parties also are required to engage in a good faith discussion about the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at neutral sites.
But at this point, that almost doesn’t matter as the league once again sent another proposal last Friday refusing to pay players their full pro-rated salaries, this time saying they would pay the players 80-85 percent of that amount, so essentially 35 percent of what the players would have made had the season started as expected.
Now, for many fans, those numbers feel arbitrary as baseball players are paid well compared to the average fan – the league minimum right now is $563,500 – so it’s hard for fans to feel compassionate about the players right now. Especially when you consider the number of people losing their jobs and getting sick from the current COVID-19 pandemic in our country. It’s a much less important conversation, but none the less, still an important conversation.
So for those fans who are still finding themselves siding with the owners in these negotiations, let me try to explain why the players are so frustrated and why if you are a fan of baseball it’s never been more important to support the players.
How MLB got here
For starters, as referenced above the owners and players agreed to a deal late in March when the season was suspended that would pay players 50 percent of their salaries in 2020. Now, the owners have claimed there is verbiage in this agreement that allows them, to renegotiate the players’ salaries, in good faith, should the season be played without fans. It’s this wording that is causing so much friction between the players and owners right now, as the MLBPA was under the impression this was a done-deal in March.
Both sides have since offered three proposals, with a common theme throughout being the players demanding their full pro-rated salaries while the owners continue to fight against the players claiming they cannot afford to pay the players while also losing money with each game played.
So as usual, the conversation has centered around money and whether the owners feel like paying these players because it’s not about whether they can afford to pay players, it’s about the owners being unwilling to afford to pay the players.
The MLB in 2019 made a record-setting $10.7 BILLION in revenue, and the year before that they made $9.9 BILLION in revenue. And while revenue doesn’t immediately translate to profit, we’re talking about unprecedented wealth being accumulated by the MLB owners. And while the owners have never raked in more cash, the MLB players have seen their average salary decrease over the last two seasons.
So for the owners to continuously come to the players and ask them to take less money, to assume more risk in playing baseball this season amid COVID-19, all while the owners have billion-dollar a TV deal with Turner Sports leak during this process, it’s hard to see how these owners are hurting financially. And of course, the owners are not going to turn over their books to show any of this — we’re just supposed to take their word.
And on top of all of this, there was a reported waiver that the owners pushed in their last proposal requesting that the players sign away their right to file a grievance should the MLB not ensure a safe work environment when baseball does return. So in other words, if a player were to get COVID-19 during the season, even if the league does a poor job creating a safe work environment, the players cannot blame the league.
In response to MLB once again sending another non-starter proposal, the MLBPA simply asked MLB when to report.
That led to Manfred then saying on Monday saying he was “less confident” that a deal would get done, just five days removed from saying he was “100 percent sure” there would be a season. With rumblings of a grievance coming from the MLBPA, Manfred knew the public was turning on him and the MLB owners — which was the owner’s biggest bargaining tool. With fans turning on the owners after baseball had literally months to find a way to make this season work, it was clear this whole situation was botched by Manfred and the owner’s lack of “good faith” negotiating.
Oh and then the MLB leaked a letter to the AP saying several players and staff members on teams had tested positive for COVID-19.
So what happens to MLB now?
Manfred, who went on an ESPN special titled “Return to Sports” Monday, had this to say about the current state of the MLB. Keep in mind, this comes just five days after Manfred essentially guaranteed a season.
Yep, you’re right Rob, this is a disaster.
But what this all comes down to is the owners not managing the incredible amount of money they’d made over the last few seasons well enough to plan ahead for a down season. And for most major league teams, the owners have never had to plan for a down season because they continue to make more and more money on TV deals and in-game purchases like food, beer or team apparel. Those prices have continued to go up as baseball strives to provide more amenities in and around their ballparks.
Infamous sports agent Scott Boras wrote to the MLBPA back in May trying to explain why the owners were so hellbent on not paying players, telling players to not “bailout” the owners.
“Owners are asking for more salary cuts to bail them out of the investment decisions they have made,” Boras said. “If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization. The owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks. This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations.
“Owners now want players to take additional pay cuts to help them pay these loans. They want a bailout. They are not offering players a share of the stadiums, ballpark villages or the club itself, even though salary reductions would help owners pay for these valuable franchise assets. These billionaires want the money for free. No bank would do that. Banks demand loans be repaid with interest. Players should be entitled to the same respect.”
For years, owners have been able to generate plenty of money off owing MLB teams and have then reinvested that money back into assets that are not very liquid — meaning the owners have taken the cash they made from baseball and bought things that they cannot turn into cash quickly. So they’ve created this situation, all while never offering to give more of that money back to the players. Now the owners are asking the players to take less and assume more risk, so their bosses can hurt less financially.
The MLBPA’s Executive Director Tony Clark released a statement Monday in response to Manfred’s comments, saying the players were “disgusted” with Manfred and the owners.
Now the owners are going to attempt to beg the players to come back to the negotiating table in fear the MLBPA will file and win a grievance case against the league. The MLBPA has basically called the owner’s bluff on forcing a season on them, so now they have to come to an agreement with the players or risk a grievance that they’ll almost definitely lose.
And while there is blame on both sides for a deal not getting done, it’s hard to fault the players in this situation when the owners have continuously refused to pay these players.
Since the players are paid per game, the owners could be attempting to stall out negotiations until a shorter season could be justified. As of right now, if the MLB tried to enforce a 50-game season, there would be too much time left on the MLB calendar for that to make any sense and would likely lead to the MLBPA filing the grievance they are threatening.
So if the MLB and MLBPA cannot come to an agreement, Manfred will have to decide if he wants to proceed with starting the season and risk a grievance from the players or if he cannot get 75 percent of the owners to agree on a schedule he may just simply cancel the 2020 season — something that the MLB hasn’t seen since 1994.
Baseball hangs in the balance of the owners and more specifically Rob Manfred. The future of the sport rests on the shoulders of the people who likely care the least about the sport itself and have proven over the last three-plus months to be solely motivated by money.
In a few short weeks, the NBA and NHL are set to continue their seasons (not to mention the NWSL and MLS) pulling the spotlight off the MLB, which had a golden opportunity to be the lone sport playing games during the pandemic — think of all the good that would have done for this sport.
If you want baseball back, if you love this sport and want to continue to see it grow, supporting these players and continuing to apply pressure on the owners is the only way this sport can be saved. Do not let the owners blame the players, do not let Rob Manfred sway you into thinking this is a collective fault. This is on the owners refusing to accept the responsibility of their financial situations, not a result of the players wanting to be paid what they are deserved.
A moral compass is something these owners lack, do not let them punish the players because they refuse to acknowledge their wealth. Baseball cannot be played without the players, remember that as this situation continues to develop.