It’s a tale as old as time, or at least one that has existed since players began taking to ball fields in an organized fashion and especially ever since they have been paid to do so. The battle between players and owners has been been the topic of countless arguments, potential game stoppages, lock-outs, strikes, salary, contract and arbitration negotiations and collective bargaining ; among many other issues that have arisen during the history of America’s Favorite Pastime. It has also been at the root of many of our favorite baseball movies, both fact and fiction. We all know about the legend of Charles Comiskey’s frugal nature that caused the 1919 Black Sox to throw the World Series, the tale of the villain, Tom Glavine during the walk-out/strike of 1994 and the evil plan of former show girl Rachel Phelps to tank the Cleveland Indians season in order to move the team to Miami. These and many other examples during this great games history have been interwoven into the fabric of time, often pitting the greedy rich owners vs. the spoiled and selfish players in a battle for our approval in the court of public opinion; and what is going on right at this very moment, during a global pandemic no less, is absolutely no different.
On the afternoon of Thursday March 12th, as I was walking around the outfield boardwalk at LECOM Park, Major League Baseball came to a screeching halt amid concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19. Initially it was announced that Spring Training would be suspended and Opening Day would be delayed for at least two weeks. From the moment this came out MLB and its owners, along the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association) began to scramble, and rightfully so. Although at this time it was thought, somewhat due to the overall ignorance of the magnitude COVID-19 would eventually have on our lives, that baseball would delay for a little bit, but things would eventually get back to “normal”; as evidenced by the first few statements and agreements that came to light in the wake of this decision.
Within two weeks of this nearly unprecedented decision, the MLB Owners, represented by Rob Manfred, and the MLBPA, led by Tony Clark had come to an agreement as it pertained to service time, the draft and salary advances. I discussed each of these in further detail after they were first announced in The Battle To “Save” Baseball. Immediately after this decision was made and upon pressure from the media and fans, a decision was also made to pay Minor League players as well. As far as the salary advances and MiLB pay were concerned only April and May were officially agreed upon or so it seemed at the time, which has become a major point of contention, but we will get to that later. Anyone who knows me is aware that I was, and still am, extremely opinionated on each of these compromises or concessions, as evidenced by My Letter To Rob Manfred : One Man’s Plea. I also have multiple opinions on the new conflict and concerns caused in part by the unforeseen ramifications that continue to unfold on almost daily basis; influencing the desire to write this and other articles.
A little over three weeks after this agreement had be finalized, rumors began to trickle out concerning MLB’s plan to return to play, as early as the middle of May by some accounts; the Arizona Plan (aka “Bio-Dome), the Cactus and Grapefruit Plan and a third plan that brought Texas into the mix. None of these plans were met with any level of optimism from the players, the media, fans and medical experts. It was at this time that we were reminded of the original three conditions of return to play, per Jeff Passan of ESPN: 1) There are no longer any bans on mass gatherings in place that would prevent games from being played in front of fans at the ballpark. 2) There are no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. or Canada. 3) Medical experts determine playing games would not present health risks for players, fans, or other team personnel. MLB and Rob Manfred also tried to remind everyone of the idea surrounding the possibility of asking players to take additional pay cuts if games are played without fans, which Tony Clark was quick to put the kibosh on, stating that this issue had already been worked out and the players were already happy with their prorated salaries. This statement by Clark was overshadowed at the time due to another decree from Manfred allowing MLB teams to furlough or reduce the pay of their employees.
Then on May 11th a bombshell was dropped by MLB and its owners. They had come to an agreement to propose a 50-50 revenue share for games played, an 82 game regular season, an expanded playoff system (14 teams), active rosters of 30 players with a possible 20 man “taxi squad” and the desire to have all games played in team’s home ballparks. This is when all hell broke lose. Immediately Tony Clark rejected it as as a possible cap proposal. Then Sean Doolittle unleashed, Trevor Bauer had a Q &A with his agent and Blake Snell let his feelings be known on Twitch. People automatically felt the need to dissect every piece of information that was presented and how it was presented. MLB then released bulletins about how they would produced documents as to how much they would lose with lost games, as well as without fans in the stands; totaling nearly $4 billion dollars. Pandemonium was about to break loose.
Then baseball fans realized most of this stuff didn’t matter and was only glimpses at the truth. Do Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, Sean Doolittle and all other players in MLB deserve to be paid their salaries at the agreed upon prorated amount? Yes. Will MLB owners lose $4 Billion? No, but technically yes. Based on last years profits, 2020 will potentially produce approximately $4 billion less than it did in 2020 with half a season being played, even though the latest data showed this loss as being representative of no games being played. However, they will save a half a year in salaries or potentially more based on their current proposal. Of course without fans in the stands, certain revenues will be lost, including ticket sales, concession purchases and merchandising. So, it begs the question how much of this is about losing money and how much of this about making the amount of money you are accustomed to?
Then came the infamous 67 page health/safety manual, which I would argue is the first thing that the MLB owners and Manfred did that addressed what they claimed was their main priority, player safety. Sure it was a little over the top with the no spitting, no high fives, no licking fingers, no sunflower seeds and obviously no Ubers. However, if they didn’t go into this much detail they would more than likely be accused of not caring about their employees enough. It was a lose-lose situation. Propose something that makes it seem impossible for the game to return or propose something that could be seen as putting players at risk. Either way you can be perceived as the bad guy.
Prior to me being able to really consider any of this to the fullest extent, MLB decided to drop another bombshell in the form of an email exchange between the MLB and the MLBPA lawyers discussing the possibility of revisiting of the prorated players salaries if the games were played with no fans. Based on this new information I would ask only two questions; 1) Does MLB have the right to ask players to play for a revenue share instead of a prorated salary based on games played? 2) Does the MLBPA have the right to reject this proposal? Unsurprisingly, the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.
Now that we are all up to speed it is time to hurry up and wait, while arguing for our beliefs about the situation on Twitter of course. In the the end we are right back to where we were in the beginning. The tale as old as time. The greedy owners versus the spoiled and selfish players. Everyone taking a side, with no clear winners and only one real loser, the fans.