Opinion: The Current Fallout Between MLB/MLBPA is Worse Than the 1994-95 Strike
On the heels of a five-round draft, Major League Baseball issued its fourth proposal in a effort to come to a return-to-play agreement with the Players Association (MLBPA). As with the previous three proposals, the MLBPA resoundingly rejected it—an exercise where both sides are becoming increasingly efficient.
This process has also become increasingly tiresome, annoying, maddening, and most of all, damaging to the sport. Now, we can honestly say that MLB has ruined the game of baseball more than the coronavirus.
On Saturday, the MLBPA drew a line in the sand. They're done. They're tired. They just want to play baseball. And most of all, they're done with this back-and-forth with the league that has grown increasingly fruitless.
"Players want to play. It's who we are and what we do.
"Since March, the Association has made it clear that our No. 1 focus is playing the fullest season possible, as soon as possible, as safely as possible. Players agreed to billions in monetary concessions as a means to that end, and in the face of repeated media leaks and misdirection we made additional proposals to inject new revenues into the industry – proposals that would benefit the owners, players, broadcast partners, and fans alike.
"It's now become apparent that these efforts have fallen upon deaf ears. In recent days, owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the Commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless players agree to hundreds of millions in further concessions. Our response has been consistent that such concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible. These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB's national television rights – information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.
"As a result, it unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It's time to get back to work. Tell us when and where."
-MLB Players Association
The last straw was the report by the New York Post that MLB and Turner Sports agreed to a billion-dollar television deal to broadcast the postseason. The new deal would be "a substantial increase from the $350 million per season that Turner had been paying." The deal won't go into effect until after their current deal expires in 2021, but the timing of the deal is poor to say the least.
Now, the MLBPA is putting the ball entirely in the hands of commissioner Rob Manfred, who has the right to implement a season of any length with the players earning prorated salaries based on the March Agreement between the two sides.
MLB came back swiftly with a statement of their own in response the the Association's suspension of negotiations.
"We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLBPA understands that the agreement reached on March 26th was premised on the parties' mutual understanding that the players would be paid their full salaries only if play resumed in front of fans, and that another negotiation was to take place if Clubs could not generate the billions of dollars of ticket revenue required to pay players. 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."
-Major League Baseball
The inherent problem is these weren't negotiations. Leaking proposals to the media only for players to learn the details there or on social media is not the basis for fruitful negotiations.
MLB has tried to dictate the public narrative as the negotiations have been dragged through the mud. Unfortunately for them, their proposals have seemingly been repackaged multiple times, throwing in other incentives like nixing draft pick compensation in free agency hoping the players would eventually bite. The bottom line is every proposal from the league has asked the players to accept further pay cuts on top of their prorated salaries, which some players view as playing games for free.
Obviously, they don't want to play baseball games for free. That notion has been loudly represented by a large number of players on social media. The players are the ones taking the risk by getting on the field, sharing a clubhouse, traveling to visiting stadiums, plus many more factors that further increases their chances of contracting COVID-19.
However, the players are willing to take the risk. They've wanted to play as many games as possible. Sure, more games means more money, but more games also means more risk. Yet, the players have continually pushed for more games. Baseball seems to be their priority. They just want to be treated fairly and justly.
According to Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal, a letter written by MLB lawyer Pat Houlihan that was sent to the MLBPA acknowledged the players union is not required to accept further pay reductions based on the March Agreement.
On the flip side, the owners have continuously tried to gouge every dollar they can in their proposals to the MLBPA. Not only have they called for further pay cuts, they've called for less games.
Imagine that. The owners of baseball teams want to minimize the game's exposure. Owners literally trot their product onto a massive platform 162 times every year. Despite revenue streams, baseball is continually losing its relevance in American culture. For a sport that is nicknamed "America's pastime," the owners had a gateway to make their game the centerpiece of the sports world once again—a world that is increasingly figuring out a way back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting back to baseball is the players' collective goal. The owners clearly do not share the same mindset. Some, hopefully most, do want to get back as soon as possible with as many games as possible. Hell, I'm an optimist. However, given the fact that even one owner is willing to throw the entire season away to minimize financial losses, it's clear that I nor anyone else has reason to believe baseball is their top priority.
Now, it's all on Rob Manfred. He can implement a season in the ballpark of 50 games, which no one covering or watching the game will consider a legitimate baseball season. The Washington Nationals, last year's World Series champions, were 19-31 through the first 50 games last year.
A 50-game season is not a baseball season. I would like to think Manfred and the owners are smart enough to not go down that path. The game has suffered enough damage this year. An illegitimate season after a war over money amid a global pandemic would, for lack of a better phrase, be the cherry on top of a steaming pile of crap.
I also wouldn't expect Manfred to implement a season in excess of 70 games, even though it is feasible. Manfred could announce on Monday that players have a week to get their travel plans in order, then have teams host a three-week Spring Training 2.0, then have the season start on July 14. That would give MLB 76 days to squeeze in as many games as possible and still end the regular season on September 27, a deadline on which MLB has remained steadfast. The league wants to end the season before a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, plus broadcast partners seem disinterested in moving their television coverage of the postseason.
However, I don't believe this scenario will happen. If Manfred were to go this route, it would pretty much be an admission the owners were wrong all along and we could have all witnessed a longer baseball season.
Baseball is in a fragile state. They are coming off the largest cheating scandal since the steroid era, they've just gone through a money war amid a global pandemic, and the current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of next year. Given the mistrust between the owners and the players, a lockout seems all but inevitable.
Baseball never fully recovered from the 1994-95 strike, but the game survived a remained profitable. However, that strike didn't happen amid a global pandemic. There also won't be a steroid-infused spectacle to bail them out this time around. This is an ugly, ugly divorce we are all witnessing and the fans are the kids watching their parents scream, yell, and tear down each other, scarring them for life.
This is easily worse than the 1994-95 strike. And MLB has no one to blame but themselves.