Even with negotiations abandoned, there is still no word on when a baseball season might start and how long it might last.
Major League Baseball and the players’ union continue to be locked in a labor battle that gets uglier by the second. Monday, commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN that he was “not confident” a 2020 season would even happen, this just days after the union told him to just schedule a season of however few games he wanted. They’d be there, they said, as long as they were getting full prorated salaries.
Apparently, that wasn’t enough a commitment. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin, the league told the players there would be no season at all unless they promised no legal action in the form of a grievance against the league.
Source: In a letter today, MLB told the MLBPA there would be no 2020 season unless the players waived any legal claims against the league.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 15, 2020
If that’s the case — the league fearful of legal action with no agreement reached between the two parties — then baseball is possible. It’s just not happening.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan laid the possibility out in a detailed piece Monday morning, before Manfred pulled his 180-degree turn from guaranteeing with 100 percent certainty that there would be a baseball season in 2020, that the league would stall:
"(The league) also could keep burning clock, which cynics on the players' side believe the league is trying to do so it can implement a shorter season simply because it's all the calendar will allow. The union asking the league to set a schedule was its best defense against any sort of four-corners strategy."
That March agreement said that the league should negotiate in good faith to play the most games possible. With the calendar potentially allowing for more than 50 games — how many more remains unclear, as the league insists the seasons needs to end by the end of October to avoid a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections; all the while, the number of infections is rising quickly in states across the country, but that seems secondary for some reason — the fear could be that if Manfred says go on a 50-game season, the union could file a grievance arguing that the league did not try to play as many games as possible.
And the consequences could be bad news for the owners. According to Passan, players could receive hundreds of millions of dollars and the owners could be forced into financial transparency ahead of — heck, aren’t we in them already? — negotiations over a new collective-bargaining agreement once the current one expires following the 2021 season.
So delays on top of delays, to get to the time in the calendar when 50 games are all that’s possible and the league can’t be accused of not negotiating in good faith.
Maybe that’s not exactly what’s happening behind the scenes. But Passan laid out that possibility Monday morning.
By the time Manfred’s comments were out in the open Monday evening, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer laid out the exact same scenario, albeit in a far more accusatory fashion.
So, Rob, explain to us how you can be 100% sure that there’s going to be baseball but not confident there will be baseball at the same time? hmmm. What changed between those statements 🤔🤔 Players told you to set the season, but it’s too early to set the season right now,— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 15, 2020
For what it’s worth, Passan laid out a scenario in which the owners — who claim the more games they play without fans in the stands, the more money they lose — could file a grievance of their own, one accusing the players of failing to negotiate in good faith over the economic feasibility of them receiving their prorated salaries, something also addressed in that March agreement.
So when the union sent out its response to Manfred’s latest comments, which union chief Tony Clark described as “threatening to cancel the entire season,” a few words stood out.
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark today released the following statement: pic.twitter.com/ibyOqB93WC— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 15, 2020
“Just another day.”
If this is really just a stall tactic by Manfred and the owners to avoid legal action, then “just another day” sums things up quite nicely. Because this solution-less back and forth is what’s been going on for months.
Of course, all of this, it should be remembered, is soaking up a lot of attention from the fact that baseball players are being asked to go back to work in the middle of a pandemic. According to Passan, “multiple players have tested positive recently.” Major League Baseball reportedly included that information in its communication with the union Monday.
And so the same question we were asking three months ago remains unanswered: Is it even a good idea to stage a season in the middle of a pandemic? For all of the carefully thought out health-and-safety proposals — which also, apparently, still need to be figured out before a season can happen — there were still some red flags accompanying their testing strategy and the lack of quarantine for teammates of a player who tests positive.
A season scuttled by a pandemic was understandable. But this has become something more. The pandemic is now only partially responsible for the ongoing delay to the 2020 season. While most every other professional sports league in the country has figured out a way to get things going again — notably, NBA players are voicing some very understandable concerns — baseball continues to be paused in the middle of a money fight.
And while Manfred’s comments Monday seemed dire, they might have just been the latest volley in a nasty labor war that began a year and a half early.
In other words, just another day.