Now, he’s not so sure.
Less than a week after saying there would “100 percent” be a baseball season in 2020, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred dialed down that statement Monday.
During a sitdown interview with ESPN for a Monday night special about the return of sports, the commissioner said, "I'm not confident. I think there's real risk; and as long as there's no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue," when asked for his confidence level of a MLB season in 2020.
He went on to call the optics of the situation a “disaster for our game,” said the union ended “good-faith negotiations” and he is no longer 100 percent confident the season will happen in 2020.
The two sides spent the weekend sniping at each other and siphoning what little joy remained around the game’s possible return. Language from the union has backed the league into a corner. Now, everyone waits for the commissioner’s next move, one which will come after he puts doubt about the season into the public sphere.
Manfred has two options: impose a 50-game season or cave to the union’s proposal for 70-something games at full prorated pay.
Neither are good. The 50-game season is rife with problems. Caving to the players sets a tone for future negotiations about how the league will operate following the collective bargaining agreement expiring in 2021. They won’t forget the give and will become even more intolerant the next time.
Manfred also told ESPN he believes the union would just file a grievance if he imposes a 50-game-or-shorter season via the late-March agreement the two sides reached.
Room for negotiation departed during the weekend. Once the MLBPA settled forcibly on its no-negotiation stance Saturday, then dared the league to impose the shortened season, the back-and-forth of any value was over. The league turned back and tried to pin blame on the players Saturday night before Manfred doubled-down on the idea Monday in his ESPN interview.
“The MLBPA’s position that players are entitled to virtually all the revenue from a 2020 season played without fans is not fair to the thousands of other baseball employees that Clubs and our office are supporting financially during this very difficult 2020 season. We will evaluate the Union’s refusal to adhere to the terms of the March Agreement, and after consulting with ownership, determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans,” the league said in a statement.
Internal letters between the sides have been leaked. Random tweets have not helped the tenor of negotiations, even if their premise was on point. Players have mocked the league on social media.
And, no one has defined the health protocol while coronavirus cases in Arizona and Florida, among other places, rise. Both were once viewed as an easier part of this process. Now, they are problematic.
The idea of baseball as a national salve has also departed. Larger issues are at hand. A sport which once promised to be part of countrywide healing during a pandemic is now catching head shakes, if it catches any attention at all. The process, timeline and goodwill have all been bungled by another baseball labor fight.
Monday was expected to put the situation closer to resolution. The owners reportedly hopped on a conference call with Manfred. Their choices to move forward are limited. Their reputations during this slopfest have also taken a rare hit. Typically, players carry blame in the public sphere when a financial squabble ensues. A recent, and unscientific, Twitter poll by Rob Friedman’s popular account, @pitchingninja, received 19,976 votes. Of those, 65 percent said they were on the players’ side in all of this. In second place? “Neither” with 27 percent. The owners? They received 4.8 percent of support.
So, a new question has been introduced by the commissioner Monday: will there even be a season? It joins the other queries steeped in this problematic process. The only constant is this has been good for no one.
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