Just a few days ago, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said this, on national television, before the league’s draft: “I can tell you unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year …. 100%.”
Rob Manfred to @Espngreeny: "It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans."
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 15, 2020
A disaster. Yes. A completely unnecessary, self-made disaster. The pandemic is not causing what is happening in this moment.
It occurred to me too late that Manfred’s 100% guarantee may have always been less about his actual certainty of a season, and more about being in a position later to blame the players if a season did not happen. The league wants to act like something changed, not on their side, in the intervening days.
Sure enough, here’s how Manfred frames his seeming change of heart:
Manfred said the MLBPA’s “decision to end good-faith negotiations” and the need for an agreement with the union on health-and-safety protocols “were really negative in terms of our efforts.”
“The owners are a hundred percent committed to getting baseball back on the field,” Manfred said. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m a hundred percent certain that’s gonna happen.”
Manfred, you’ll recall, works for the owners. He and the owners have the unilateral right to mandate a season this year at full prorated pay, but they know – and have always known – that if they mandated an absurdly short season, they were suddenly going to be negotiating health and safety protocols with a group of players who feel they have been screwed. And who are being asked to risk their health and safety for far less money than they believe the owners can afford. Why did anyone think that would go well?
Moreover, they’ve also always known a grievance would follow a mandated short season. So they do this:
Source: In a letter today, MLB told the MLBPA there would be no 2020 season unless the players waived any legal claims against the league.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 15, 2020
In other words, the owners know that as soon as they mandate the super short schedule, the players are going to file a grievance. That could mean a billion dollars in loss to the owners, and worse (for them), they might have to open the books in discovery. They don’t want to risk that, so they say, hey, say you won’t file a grievance or we’ll cancel the season.
As I frantically type, ESPN just updated it’s story with this quote from Manfred, which confirms:
“I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players full prorated salary, that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26th,” Manfred told ESPN. “Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union’s top lawyer was out telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule – as they requested – they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars. Obviously, that sort of bad-faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances.”
How is it a bad faith tactic for the players to file a grievance when they feel they are aggrieved by the owners’ unwillingness to put forth reasonable offers (from their perspective)?
I have an idea! You want the players not to file a grievance? Then just pay them prorated over 70 games, and get your expanded postseason dollars. It’s such a head-smacking obvious win-win that I cannot believe I and others have to keep saying it.
We’ll follow this, as always. You know how I feel. It’s perverse that an increasingly large group of owners (apparently) cannot see the damage they are doing to the sport – and their own franchise values in the process – and the very real harm they are doing to fans at a time when they need the distraction of baseball more than ever.
You will be sold a story in the coming weeks: that, in fact, the reason no season could come together was because the players held out, because the players were unreasonable, because it actually wasn’t really ever safe to begin with. You will be told every version of the story that isn’t about money. But I’ll offer that it will be BS. We are living through this moment right now, and we can see quite clearly that what is really at stake is short-term losses that MLB recently admitted could easily be covered:
Bruce Meyer said Rob Manfred told the MLBPA that teams "were not interested in salary deferrals because they could easily borrow the money at miniscule interest rates."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 13, 2020
UPDATE: The union responds as you’d expect:
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark today released the following statement: pic.twitter.com/ibyOqB93WC
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 15, 2020