With no deal reached last week, Major League Baseball (mostly the owners, only slightly the players) successfully shot its best plan right in the nethers, eliminating the possibility of a season launch during the week of the 4th of July.
Given that the sport is in the entertainment business, in the middle of a pandemic, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the extra value of pairing the re-launch of baseball with the national holiday would have been an outsized win. That’s why they were trying to do it. But, alas, something like $11 million per team wrecked that possibility. Seems like great business to me!
So, then, without a July 4 deadline to count backwards from, the question now is: what kind of timeline could the league actually even put together at this point? How long of a season? When could it start?
First, a trio of data points that we more or less know to be true:
The owners have, through various reports, insisted that the regular season must conclude by the end of September. This is to protect the sacred cow of the postseason in October, when it is less likely to be shut down by a second wave of COVID-19, and also when TV contracts can be in place.
It will take about 10 days from the moment a deal is finalized to actually get a second Spring Training started.
It is not reasonable to expect pitchers to ramp up for the regular season in under three weeks, and Bruce Levine reported this morning that everyone he talks to says it really has to be more like four.
So, we can do some math.
In the extraordinary event that a deal is reached today (let me laugh at that one, since the owners are only today talking to each other about the POSSIBILITY of restarting negotiations with the players), you’d be looking at Spring Training Part Two kicking up around June 18.
Give the players four weeks to get ready, and you’re looking at about July 16 for a start of the regular season.
If the season must end by September 30, then you’ve got only 77 days worth of regular season time. Even if there are doubleheaders included – something owners reportedly do not want – and even if there are only a bare minimum of off-days, you can see that it would be impossible to get in a half-season.
So, either the owners would have to bend on the end of the season going into October, or the season would have to be further reduced from, say, 70 games.
That has already happened. They’ve already f**ked things up that much. By dragging their feet on negotiations about money in the middle of a pandemic, the sides (again, mostly the owners) have ensured that the fans cannot get even close to a half-season.
You are reminded at this moment that virtually all reports agree that the March agreement gives the league the unilateral right to impose a season of whatever length it decides, after good faith negotiations with the players about trying to get in the longest possible season. You can already throw that second part in the shitter, because we on the outside certainly haven’t seen anything even approaching a good faith effort to get in the longest season possible.
Instead, what it looks like is a process being intentionally dragged out so that a 50-ish game season is “ope, that’s all we have time for!” And what a coincidence! That 50-ish games at prorated pay would be exactly the amount the owners have signaled for multiple months that they are willing to pay players this year (about 1/3 pay). It’s almost like none of this is an accident. That’s wild.
So, then. It’s another week of crossroads. Either one side bends significantly to make a longer season happen, or there are more 1970s B-movie angry letter writing campaigns. If the owners come out of today’s meeting and either do not submit a counterproposal on season length to the players (who, you’ll recall, proposed a far-too-long 114-game season, but were waiting for a counterproposal that the owners just flat out declined to make), or send one of their BS letters, then you’ll know what you need to know.
It’ll mean they want this process to drag out, and they intend to unilaterally impose the 50-ish game season (complete with, likely, no expanded postseason, no happy player participation on extras, and a massive player grievance after the season). It’ll also mean another month of absolutely nothing from baseball except hostility (from the sides) and apathy (from the fans). All during a month when MLB *could* have been the only major team sport back on the air.
Covering themselves in glory at every turn. I was only 12 when the strike happened in 1993-94, so I doubt I had any kind of sophisticated sense of what I thought was happening, who I blamed, how I felt about the risks to the sport, etc. I do not have those limitations now. I know what I think. I know what the risks are. And I know who I blame.
Salvage a 70-game season at this point. Pay the players prorated pay. Get the expanded postseason. Avoid an ugly fight. Make something decent for the fans out of this indecent moment. Can 25+ of these owners truly not see it?
UPDATE: They truly do not see it. The latest offer, on first blush, just looks like another joke: