Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Alexander Tassopoulos
The 2020 offseason has not been ideal for Major League Baseball or its commissioner Rob Manfred. Two of the last three World Series champions have been investigated for, and found guilty of some form of sign stealing. Commissioner Manfred was blasted by many in the sport who feel the subsequent penalties were not severe enough for such serious infraction of the rules and overall integrity of the game.
And yet, the essential slap on the wrist Manfred gave to the Red Sox and Astros does not compare to his work in negotiating the terms for the 2020 MLB season.
First, a brief overview of where negotiations stand. Contentious negotiations between MLB owners and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Player’s Association) have been ongoing since May 12th, exactly two months after the league began its hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The most argumentative aspect of negotiations has been player salary. Although in March the players agreed to receive prorated salaries for the 2020 season, owners want further salary concessions. This has caused pushback and outrage from the players and the MLBPA. They contend that player salaries are thoroughly covered in the aforementioned March agreement in which players agreed to forgo 1/162ndof base pay for each lost regular season game.
From the owner’s perspective, the concern is, if they play games without fans, and with fully prorated player salaries, the MLB would actually lose money per game played. This is a nonstarter for billionaire owners who, let’s face it, need to also view the sport as the business it ultimately is. All of these factors, not to mention the logistics and safety concerns also being hashed out in the ongoing negotiations, has led to over a month of back and forth, and still no baseball.
Now, you might be wondering, what is commissioner Manfred’s role in all this?
In regard to the commissioner’s function in labor relations the MLB Constitution states, “(a)… The Commissioner shall also have executive responsibility for labor relations and shall serve as Chairman, or shall designate a Chairman, of such committees as the Commissioner shall name…”
The MLB constitution essentially states that this is on commissioner Manfred. Although it may appear through the negotiations that Manfred represents the 30 owners who pay his salary, that is simply not the case. Instead, the commissioner should act as an intermediary between the MLBPA and owners and help formulate a resolution as quickly as possible. Instead, Manfred has done the opposite. Just this Monday, during an ESPN interview, he said he is “not confident” there will be a 2020 season, further escalating tensions on both sides of the negotiations.
Ultimately, the chances of a 2020 season are high. As commissioner, Manfred does have the ability to institute a season with prorated salaries; this would likely be the shortest season possible with, perhaps only around 50 games so the owners limit their risk of losses as much as possible. The pandemic of course was impossible to predict, and no one can blame Manfred for not having a 162-game season. But, the fact of the matter is that we have been in negotiations for over a month, and every day that passes is one less opportunity to play baseball.
Major league baseball is no rookie when it comes to labor disputes. There was a work stoppage in the 70s, in the 80s, in 1994, and almost again in 2002. The reason Manfred is commissioner in the first place is because of his background as a lawyer in labor disputes. Baseball is passing up an unprecedented opportunity for exposure. During the pandemic, ratings for sporting events from the NFL draft to UFC cards are way up. There is no doubt if Manfred can bring the two sides together to reach an agreement it will be the best thing for all parties involved: him, the players, owners, and of course the fans. The players want to play, the owners will immensely benefit from the limelight Major League Baseball would receive, Manfred can finally put the 2020 offseason from hell behind him, and we get to watch baseball.
Hopefully a face-to-face meeting between Manfred and MLBPA president Tony Clark today in Arizona is a sign of an agreement on the horizon and we can finally get back to everyone’s favorite summer pastime: watching the Mets find ways to lose baseball games.