Blink and You'll Miss It

Jeff Passan had an article on ESPN yesterday about the current status of negotiations between MLB and the Players' Union. Passan is reporting that MLB is targeting a regular season of around 48 games, presumably unless the Players are willing to compromise on salary beyond the prorated payments agreed to in March. It sounds as if they're really serious about that number, too. Apparently, there is no concern on the part of the owners as to the legitimacy of a season that is less than 30% of the length of a normal season. It's the equivalent of the NBA playing a 24-game season, or the NFL playing a 4-5 game schedule.

It doesn't seem likely the Players would agree to this, but I suppose anything is possible. As a fan, I guess I would take a season of that length - as long as it was played primarily by legitimate Major Leaguers - over nothing at all. At least it would be a couple of months of baseball. But if the Mets somehow managed to go all the way and win the World Series, I would not at all feel the same as I would if it happened in a normal year. I'm always happy to see the Mets win, but that Championship would absolutely not stand with 1969 and 1986. Personally, I'd have to hang about 12 asterisks on it.

Look, I understand that these are extraordinarily difficult times. The obstacles to be overcome in order to play baseball at all this year are considerable. Still, the people who run this game are stewards of not just a game, but an American institution that has been around for over 150 years. There was a time when a Commissioner was at least supposed to be the person who looked out for the game of Baseball. Rob Manfred is just some guy in an expensive suit doing exactly what the Club Owners want him to do.

I keep reading that both sides are being intransigent in these negotiations, but honestly, I'm starting to wonder if everything MLB was doing up to this point was meant to bring us to the very place where we find ourselves today. To recap:

  • MLB came out with a full court press on the PR front with a revenue sharing proposal they labeled as "historic", knowing full well that the whole idea of revenue sharing tied to a salary cap is something the Players have been unwilling to accept for three decades.
  • After this plan was intentionally leaked out, Manfred gave interviews claiming horrible losses that MLB clubs would endure if they paid players prorated salaries, but never provided the Players Union requested documentation in full to support this claim. Moreover, multiple expert articles have been produced questioning the math used to determine these losses.
  • When MLB finally did present a proposal to the Players two weeks later, it was even more Draconian in requested cuts than the original proposal, asking the game's highest-paid superstars to play for pennies on the dollar of their original contract.
  • They leaked the idea of playing a very limited number of regular season games for full prorated pay, then rejected the Players Union's proposal without any counter, stating that MLB would go forward with a short regular season and then Playoffs.
I can't shake a nagging feeling that everything that MLB has done so far was designed to bring us exactly where we are, trying to force the Players into an all or nothing acceptance of a 30 - 60 game regular season and then expanded Playoffs. Sure, the Union has to sign off on this, but the Owners will continue to claim that this is the only possible way that Baseball can be played in 2020, and see if the Players eventually crack for a chance to make some money this year. Maybe they will even sweeten the pot a little by offering the Players a larger share of those sweet, sweet Playoff dollars that MLB Owners are so desperate to get their grubby little hands on.

If MLB Clubs and their oh-so compliant Commissioner wanted to get to where we are right now from the start, everything up to now makes sense. Make offers that you know will be rejected. Check. Put the PR machine into overdrive to get out your side of the story. Check. Reject the Players' counterproposal without even offering a counter. Check. Then simply state negotiations are over and you're moving ahead with the ridiculously short season that you wanted all along.

It's become apparent in the past week that the only thing the Club Owners care about is the Playoff dollars. The longer the regular season winds up being, the more chance something can go wrong and the Playoffs wind up not happening.

I hope I'm wrong, and MLB and the Union can come to terms on something close to the half-season that still seems the best compromise between playing as many regular season games as possible to give some legitimacy to Playoff seedings. I just can't shake the belief that we've all been cynically manipulated into this space where we now find ourselves. We have a Commissioner and a group of Owners that will put their bottom line ahead of any regard for the history of this sport and their own place in its history.

I'm out for today. I'll be back tomorrow with a new post. Please be well and stay safe.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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