Another rejection, more delays, and still we are without word of what a 2020 baseball season could look like.
Monday, the players' union voted to reject Major League Baseball's most recent proposal for a 60-game season, opting to preserve their right to file a grievance against the league and take legal action as the state of labor relations in the sport worsens by the hour.
The union's statement following the vote reaffirmed their "when and where" stance and seemingly put the ball in commissioner Rob Manfred's court. He's expected to use the power granted to him in the March agreement between the two sides to implement a season of however many games he and the owners choose, reportedly a 60-game campaign beginning late next month.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is scheduled to implement a 60-game season that will start July 29, although no official announcement yet— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 22, 2020
But even that decision does not appear to be imminent.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has no plans to implement a season tonight, or even tomorrow.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 22, 2020
That's not entirely surprising, considering the things that still need to be ironed out between the two parties, most importantly the health and safety measures the league will take while the sport is played in the middle of an ongoing pandemic.
The two sides still have to reach an agreement on labor and health issues, perhaps delaying Manfred's decision.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 22, 2020
But indeed the financial fight drags on. Perhaps it's paused for now, though the union seemed to put its foot down and end negotiations more than a week ago, only for Manfred and union chief Tony Clark to sit down in Arizona days later, renewing optimism that a deal might be reached. The two sides traded proposals again — something that supposedly caught the owners off guard, as they believed the Manfred-Clark meeting ended in an agreement — and ended up just 10 games apart, the owners pushing for a 60-game season and the players a 70-game season.
Still, no compromise.
As has been the case all along, the battle has been about money, and the financial stakes are undoubtedly high. The players seemed to have won their crusade for full prorated salaries, which they agreed to in March, though perhaps at the cost of a great number of regular-season games. The owners, warning of gigantic losses in a season played without fans in the stands, have not provided the evidence to back those claims up, fueling a lack of trust on the players' side.
It's been speculated that either side could take legal action by filing a grievance, the players arguing that the owners did not try to play the greatest number of games, and the owners charging the players did not try to work out an economically feasible solution. A ruling in favor of the players, it's been guessed, could come with a nearly $1 billion price tag for the owners.
But a lack of a deal could also scuttle plans for some interesting changes to the game amid these unprecedented circumstances, ones that might have set the groundwork, perhaps, for long-lasting change in the sport. The designated hitter was expected to come to the National League. The postseason was pitched to expand from 10 teams to 16 teams. There was a discussion of adopting new rules for extra innings. Players might have been mic'd up in enhanced broadcasts. And teams might have been allowed to sell advertisements on their uniforms. None of that can happen without the two sides agreeing.
While the very public disagreement between the two sides is being decried as damaging to the sport's long-term reputation — there are ominous predictions of a work stoppage coming when the current collective-bargaining agreement ends after the 2021 campaign — often lost is the fact that any shortened season would take place during a pandemic. And rather than focus on baseball's supposed "missed opportunity" to draw a few extra eyeballs, how about some attention on the health risks facing players, coaches and the myriad staffers required to stage a season?
And outside the walls of major league ballparks and facilities, the number of COVID-19 cases is rising dramatically in many states, including 11 that are home to a combined 19 major league teams — two-thirds of the league.
So, in the end, no matter when the season starts, it will be unknown if it will be able to finish, given the evolving state of the pandemic.
But any number of games is greater than zero, which is how many have been announced to this point as we continue to wait for baseball.