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Can The MLB Recover From Its Self-Created Mess?


Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at the National Press Club in Washington on July 16, 2018. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

The MLB has created a Charlie Foxtrot of a situation for itself from its Return to Play Negotiations. With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to relax in some shape or form in almost every state, people are yearning for sports to return.

So far, they have got their wish with two of three major team sports that are normally taking place at this time (Yes, Max Kellerman, the NHL falls in this category). The NHL announced on May 25 that Phase II of their Return to Play plan would begin on June 8, with teams able to reopen their facilities for players. The goal is for the league to begin the 24-team playoff tournament sometime around mid-to-late July.

The NBA announced its plan for return to play on June 4 with play scheduled to begin on July 31 with the Finals wrapping up in October.

Major League Baseball is still twiddling their thumbs.

The Negotiations

The negotiations and back-and-forth started on May 11 with the owners agreeing to a plan for an 82-game season, expanded rosters, and expanded 14-team postseason. The final piece was a 50-50 revenue split between the owners and the players. Things began to go a little sideways on day one of negotiations. The players’ union was under the impression that the pay issue was settled back in March when the two sides agreed to prorated salaries.

However, the owners had something else in mind. This will come back up a little later. Things were a little more productive on May 14, when the two sides agreed to the use of a universal DH. Seemingly a small accomplishment.

But, with expanded rosters, it meant more at-bats for players who ordinarily wouldn’t seem them. You could also argue a universal DH will benefit pitchers’ health. I told you we would get back to money again.

On May 18, the owners casually drop that without fans in the seats, they would lose $640,000 per game. We will never know due to the fact professional sports team keep the books and accounting practices locked tighter than Fort Knox.

The owners used this moment to again push for even further pay reductions beyond the already agreed upon 50-50 split. The league was set to make its financial proposal on May 26.

Two days before the players announced they were willing to take salary deferrals to previous years to offer the financial relief the owners are looking for to ease the loss of fans. The proposed plan from the owners, however, was deeply disappointing to the players due to the deep pay cuts for top-paid players and the other pay cuts overall.

The MLBPA decided to call the owners bluff on May 29 and requested evidence of the previous claims that the league was set to lose a combined $4 billion under the current 50-50 split without additional pay cuts. Two days later, the players’ union proposed a plan for a 114-game schedule with no additional pay cuts.

I am sure you can guess how that went over with the league. June 1, the league agreed to pay the prorated salaries, the terms that were initially agreed upon. However, the owners wanted a much shorter season.

This way they would have to pay a smaller percentage of the salaries due to the players. In this same vein, the league rejected the 114-game plan and said they would not make a counteroffer.

Tuesday, June 9, the league proposed a 76-game season (so much for no counteroffer). The kicker is the still want additional pay cuts.

MLB and all of Its Issues

Now that everyone is all caught up, let’s dive into what the hell all of this means. Basically, both sides are quickly pissing away money by fighting over pennies. Yes, I am aware that millions of dollars are a far cry from “pennies.”

But, the point is these are MLB teams and MLB players we are talking about here.These are some of the wealthiest and most valuable entities, and they are acting as if they are operating on a ramen noodle and Diet Coke budget.

Meanwhile, during the lockdown, over 40 million people found themselves out of a job. This isn’t a good look for a league that already has issues among the public.

Attendance for Major League Baseball games has been steadily declining since it peaked in 2007. It doesn’t stop there. TV viewership has been declining as well. This is often contributed to an aging primary demographic and game length and pace that some younger fans find laborious.

Following the strike in 1994, the league struggled to repair its image for several seasons, it ultimately recovered. However, the question at hand is: can the league bounce back in this age where everything is reported in real-time?

I think it can, but it would be wise for the league and the players not to dawdle. Especially not with the NHL and NBA making it look fairly easy to give the people what they want. I believe the players are completely in the right in this situation. I think the whole situation is ridiculous, but I stand with the players.

The players have already negotiated in good faith back in March with the agreed upon 50-50 split and prorated salaries. However, the owners decided to swoop in like a bad Wall Street cartoon trying to same as hoard as much money as possible.

MLB had an opportunity to be heroes during the lockdown and offer people something to look forward to. However, they’ve blown a 3-0 lead in the ALCS and are about to cap off the collapse. The league needs to strike a deal with players very soon, lest America’s Pastime takes a permanent hit.

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