Baseball’s labor negotiations have turned out drama that can feel like the plot twists of a seven-game World Series. Instead of thrilling people, though, this is a drama that has left many baseball fans angry and confused.
There’s really no way to mitigate the anger that you may be feeling. But here are some questions and answers that could help you through the current situation. Just promise to keep in mind that anything you hear in the moment can change significantly a few hours later.
So, in brief, what’s the latest?
After weeks of sniping through the media and press releases, commissioner Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, the players’ union director, met face-to-face for several hours on Wednesday in Arizona. Signs of encouragement appeared to be that Manfred left the meeting at one point to talk to a committee of team owners and union leaders were quiet when talks ended for the day. But there is no deal.
When was the previous time Manfred and Clark met in person?
Face-to-face, you mean? It was March 14, just before spring training was halted.
What changed on Wednesday?
The main thing appears to be that MLB would give player their full pro-rated pay based on the number of games played. Before, owners claimed they would lose so much money playing in empty stadiums that they only wanted to give a percentage of pro-rated pay. Owners are now proposing a 60-game schedule. Players want more games, perhaps by adding some doubleheaders to the schedule.
What do the Twins think?
Owner Jim Pohlad told columnist Sid Hartman his optimism comes and goes, and put the importance of playing in this context: “Baseball at its best is an activity, a diversion for people for enjoyment, social interaction, competition, so I think in all those respects with what everybody has gone through, it is very important. But we can’t in any way minimize the importance of the health of people in the country as a result of the pandemic and the fight for social justice. Because those are two way more important issues than baseball.”
But what about the players?
That’s harder to say. Most have stayed quiet and, unlike most other team sports, players haven’t been talking to the media on Zoom or elsewhere. Some have used social media, though. Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak and others have used the hashtag #LetTheKidsPlay and a number of stars, including Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole, have tweeted the phrase “tell us when and where” this week. That phrase comes from the commissioner’s authority to unilaterally dictate the terms of the season, if he chooses,
Why hasn’t that happened?
Two reasons: Manfred works for the best interests of the owners and MLB knows that, without a negotiated deal, it would be facing grievances filed by the union that could have a lasting impact beyond whatever happens in 2020. Remember, these are labor negotiations and they’re not meant to be pretty.
What are the odds of a season?
Even on Tuesday, the morning after Manfred walked back his 100% confidence in games being played, one gambling website had the odds at 2/5. In other words, betting $5 on the season being held, would get you only $2 in winnings.
What happens now?
Things have to move quickly. If it’s going to take four weeks for players to be ready to play (and MLB is really hoping for a July 19 or 20 start of the season) a deal needs to be struck in the next few days. It may be more realistic to look at an August 1 starting date.
How does the coronavirus figure into this?
In addition to the protocols that other leagues are talking about, there’s a concern about extending baseball beyond the warm-weather months. Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Los Angeles Times this week that he’d even be concerned about going too deep into October. “Even in warm weather, like in Arizona and California, we’re starting to see resurgences as we open up,” Fauci said. “But I think the chances of there being less of an issue in the end of July and all of August and September are much, much better than if you go into October.”
So what else should I know?
Well, there’s TV revenue, which is driving MLB’s need for a season as much as anything. This year’s national TV revenues are estimated at $1.7 billion and baseball is still hoping to pick up slightly more than half of the total from the networks. That explains why the plan includes expanded playoffs. More playoff games equal more TV money.