Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Everyone Gets Their Blocks Knocked Off

So, the empty suit that carries the title of Commissioner of Baseball has decreed that there will be a 60-game season this year, provided MLB and the Players could agree on safety protocols this week. There was a genuine opportunity to come to some sort of negotiated agreement between MLB's 60-game proposal and the MLBPA's counter of 70 games, but that was just a bridge too far for MLB to travel to possibly erase a bit of the stain that baseball carries for staging an ugly 6 week dust-up over money.

We came close to real negotiating last week when Rob Manfred flew out to Arizona to meet with Tony Clark. Inevitably, however, there was a dispute over whether the fruits of that meeting was a definite agreement or the framework of one, and the idea of one last negotiation over the number of games played was the almost farcical immovable obstacle to being able to get some positive PR by actually coming to a mutual agreement.

MLB said the owners were "disappointed" when the players turned down their last proposal. This might mean something if they hadn't unilaterally rejected the players' 70-game proposal without even attempting to offer a small compromise. The outcome is that both sides come out looking bad, and neither side got the things they felt they needed. So essentially, this was a lose-lose deal. Good times.

The primary things the players gave up thanks to a lack of a deal was a $25 million playoff pool and forgiveness of $33 million of the $170 million they were given in March. They also lose out on the universal DH for this year and next, but it's possible that it will be implemented at least for this season as a safety protocol to keep pitchers from getting hurt. Given that they will have only 3 weeks to prepare for the season, they should have more than enough opportunities to hurt themselves on the mound, so it makes sense to remove hitting and baserunning from the equation.

The playoff pool money could be big, if the season makes it there, as the only money players traditionally make from the playoffs is a percentage of gate receipts. If there is nobody in the stands, there won't be any gate receipts. It remains to be seen, however, if the players would be willing to play those games for no money, and I assume some sort of compromise would be worked out - if the season manages to reach that point.

The owners lose out on two years of expanded playoffs, which they desperately wanted and needed, but apparently not badly enough to see if a couple of extra games might convince the players to come to terms. More importantly, what was lost here was one last chance to change the dreary narrative of the past few weeks. Baseball will carry the stink of this for a long time. Ten years from now most of the current players will be gone or at the tail end of their careers, but most of these owners will still have their franchises, and they will still be feeling the effects of this madness.

If the players agree to the health and safety protocols, training camps can officially begin next week. The season would start up around July 20. There was a time, back a few weeks ago, when I would have been truly happy to have a start date for baseball. Now, while I guess it would be good to have baseball to watch, it's hard to feel excited about it. Any potential excitement bled out slowly over these past few weeks. I just don't feel it anymore.

Here's hoping that it doesn't get any worse, that the two sides don't find anything else to disagree on and further delay a potential return of baseball.  Knock wood that a significant number of the game's top stars don't elect to sit this season out and render it even more meaningless than a 60-game schedule has already done. Fingers crossed that COVID-19 doesn't put the final dagger into a 2020 baseball season.

If I was a club owner that wasn't a member of the minority group of hardliners that caused most of the damage, I'd be wondering what needed to be done going forward to stop this group from having such total control of the negotiations. I'd be extremely skeptical that a new agreement could be reached after the 2021 season when this one was botched so badly. And I would most certainly question whether Rob Manfred is the right man for the extremely difficult job of correctly steering through the next couple of years.


I thought Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had a perfect summation of the ultimate results from the past few weeks of stubborn insanity that we all had to witness:
In the end, we were left with owners who wouldn't kick in an average of just over $4 million per club to play 65 games instead of 60, and players who for all their newfound unity could have ended up better off in any number of ways by striking a deal. The league's implementation of a schedule only figures to drive the parties further apart, and more bad will is the last thing this sport needs.
The timing of this dispute, though, is what people will remember most. The bitter email exchanges and tone-deaf public remarks came at a moment when the country was facing not only acute medical and economic concerns, but also in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, conducting an extraordinary conversation about who we are.
The biggest problem, I think, is that MLB has shown us exactly who they are, a group of soulless bean counters who feel no obligation to the game or the fans that runs in any way contrary to what's in their best interests. Every step down this road they've dragged their game down over the past few weeks, combined with their failure to truly negotiate in good faith even once, has served to shine a light on these folks that is not at all flattering.

As for the players, they didn't do themselves any favors, either. MLB was so transparently awful during all of this that it gives the union some cover, but they never took a step further than they had to in an attempt to change the narrative. If they could have done that, it would have only benefitted themselves going forward into a very uncertain financial time. And they would have looked a whole lot better in the process.


Joel Sherman thinks that the 2020 World Series Champion, if there is one, will deserve the title. I respect his opinion, but I just can't agree with it. If the Mets manage to win the Series this year I would be happy, but I wouldn't feel the same about it as if they won in a normal year. Maybe if the season was 100 games, maybe even if it was over 80. But 60 isn't baseball. It's not even a full season for hockey or basketball. In a game like baseball which is so rooted in tradition, sorry, I just don't feel it.


Some interesting news came across the RSS reader this afternoon. 15 minor league teams are suing their insurance companies over rejection of coronavirus-related business interruption claims. Apparently their policies exclude losses "caused by or resulting from any virus", or any "acts or decisions, including the failure to act or decide, of any person, group, organization or governmental body."

That would seem fairly plain to me, but the companies suing are claiming that "actions and inaction of federal and state governments" contributed to "catastrophic financial losses" for ballclubs. It would still seem to me that this would still fall under the exclusion from governments "failure to act or decide". I'm as political as anyone, but even if you can convince a jury that the federal government was grossly negligent, how does that change anything?

I feel bad for the minor league clubs. Nobody seems to give much of a damn about how they survive this mess, but this seems like quite a Hail Mary to me.


Today marks three full months since I returned on April 24. This post is number 100 since I came back, a number that feels significant to me, at least. Thanks to everyone who was supportive of this effort to resurrect this site after a decade on the sidelines. And special thanks to all of you who honor us by spending some of your time reading what's written here. You make it all worthwhile. Please stay safe, stay well and take care. See you soon.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

1 comment:

  1. Mike,

    Has it really been 100 posts? Wow. Time flies when you are quarantined.

    The game has far to many hard-line owners that would rather tank and collect checks than about trying to win and build the sport. Baseball has to do a better job of policing those guys instead of letting them call the shots.


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