Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Joey Spathis
The 2020 MLB “season” and the events leading to its resurgence have been tumultuous, to say the least. A season that began with failed negotiations and mindless chatter about “where and when” has again taken a turn for the worse. MLB clubs are now experiencing COVID outbreaks, mass postponements, and possibly another stoppage in play altogether.
One thing has been consistent all season long: Commissioner Rob Manfred’s inability to govern the situation. Time and time again, Manfred has chosen to defend MLB owner’s checkbooks rather than act in the best interest of the players and the sport itself. After a series of ugly negotiations, bound to resurface soon, Manfred faces possibly his most difficult problem; a problem he created for himself.
As of Saturday, 20% of the MLB was experiencing a stoppage in play due to widespread COVID outbreaks in the Marlins and Cardinals clubhouses. Manfred was quick to blame the players, citing their “need to be better”, however, these outbreaks can be blamed on nobody but the Commissioner and the owners themselves. The MLB, and Manfred specifically, have failed to put necessary protocols in place and create a playing environment in which the health and safety of all players and staff is truly the primary concern. Rather than fight harder to implement a bubble similar to the NBA and NHL, a solution which would have vastly depleted owner’s stadium sponsorship revenues, the MLB half-assedly settled on the solution currently in place. Unfortunately, MLB’s protocols and solutions appear to be far more reactive than proactive. MLB’s refusal to “formally restrict the activities of Covered Individuals when they are away from Club facilities”, was never going to realistically mitigate the chances that teams and players were exposed to Covid-19. Instead, the league made plans to manage what would happen when outbreaks occurred, not if. It was never enough for players to be expected to act safely and responsibly, much stricter measures should have been in place. With 30+ confirmed cases only 10 days into the season, it’s safe to say MLB’s plans have failed. Catastrophically.
More poorly thought-out aspects of MLB’s return to play have come to light recently, and players and staff are not happy. Shocker. Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo and Marlins skipper Don Mattingly have already blasted MLB’s protocols for social distancing in the dugout and the clubhouse during rain delays. As more and more flaws in the plan become apparent, so does the fact that the league has failed to create a sustainable method to resume play during the pandemic. Every day, exposures and opt-outs are increasing, as is the likelihood that the season cannot conclude. Unfortunately for players, fans, owners, and even Manfred; shortened or inconclusive seasons may be right around the corner again for the MLB.
The MLB’s current CBA is set to expire after the 2021 season. The last time the CBA expired, after the 2016 season, the league was merely hours away from a lockout before a deal was reached. In more recent years fundamental disagreements between the owners and the players union seemed to have the league on a crash course with a labor dispute, even before the COVID pandemic further aggravated the situation. Players are going to negotiate for a higher percentage of increasing league revenues. That negotiation, which would have been unseemly before, will now be even uglier seeing the difficult financial times the league finds itself in. The MLB will also have to iron out complex disputes regarding tanking, cheating, and service time manipulation.
On top of all this, there are complications due to Covid-19. The intensely bitter negotiations regarding salary proration and the resumption of play during the pandemic from earlier this year have left a lack of trust and a seemingly irreparable rift between the players and the owners/league. These negotiations will likely be a foreshadowing of what is to come. The players turned down an offer that would have given them a 4% increase in salary proration and increased revenue from an expanded playoff structure, in exchange for the right to file a grievance with the owners after the 2021 season. The players left money and an unquestionably better deal on the table for the opportunity to sue the owners during the CBA negotiations of 2021. The ensuing legal battle will be unquestionably ugly. The players union is already hiring lawyers and believes the grievance can be worth up to a billion dollars.
This has been an incredibly frustrating and disheartening saga for baseball fans everywhere. The diehard fan is no longer concerned about the future of this season -- were concerned about the future of the sport. As the strife and disputes continue, the casual fan may be losing interest altogether, which is incredibly dangerous for a league that already struggles to both attract and retain viewers. Manfred has his work cut out for him if he wishes to keep MLB players on the field; this season and beyond.