MLB Players, Owners Need to Get a Grip

Both sides may feel justified, but the players need to get on the field

I, for one, certainly was not expecting the Orioles to be undefeated in June at the start of Spring Training.

The 2020 season, of course, got waylayed halfway through spring training by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Baseball, of course, was not the only team sport to have their season altered by the pandemic. All NCAA winter and spring sports were stopped and their championships canceled. The NBA and NHL were frozen in place. Soccer leagues across Europe were stopped. Baseball in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan was delayed.

Seemingly the only league that did not have their on-field product impacted by the pandemic was the NFL, no doubt related to the deal with the devil Pete Rozelle made way back when to help the NFL take over the world….(I kid).

But a lot of those leagues are either back on the field or have plans to get back on the field.

Major League Baseball, on the other hand, is engaging in a war of words between its owners and the MLB Players Association being played out in the media and in tweets from ballplayers.

The crux of the arguments is seemingly over two things: the length of the season and money. To explain it as simply as possible, players want to play a 114-game schedule with the remainder of their salaries pro-rated over the rest of the season. Owners want to play a shorter season, with season lengths of somewhere between 75 and 90 games proposed, with players receiving a percentage of their pro-rated salaries.

Both sides are right in certain areas of their proposal. Players are right to demand the full value of their pro-rated salaries. They are contractually obligated to be paid those salaries for playing the game, something they have pointed out repeatedly if they are expected to play in a pandemic-filled world. The owners are rightly justified in suggesting a percentage of their salaries considering owners will lose whatever ticket and concessions revenues they would normally receive from a game from playing in empty ballparks.

Both sides are wrong in areas of their proposal too. Players refuse to budge on salary issues despite the obvious shortcomings in revenue. Even taking into account the justification of their salary proposals, owners are still proposing to take money out of the players' pockets by refusing to consider their 114-game schedule proposal.

The longer both sides dither the worse this is going to get for everybody. Because if they don’t come to an agreement soon:

  • The season will continue to be delayed. More than likely they have already missed the window for a big 4th-of-July opening day.

  • They won’t get ahead of the NHL and the NBA. The NBA is planning to resume its season July 31st with meaningful games featuring only playoff-contending teams. The NHL is going to launch directly into their playoffs. That’s going to be competing head-to-head with most of however long the baseball season winds up lasting. That will ultimately dovetail right into the start of the NFL season. One of the best things baseball has going for it in this modern era is its exclusivity window where it is the only major sport on the field for most of the summer.

  • Commissioner Rob Manfred will force the season to start in a solution nobody will like. The Commissioner’s office has floated the idea of a season as short a 48-games, a solution that will make nobody happy and stick the season with the biggest asterisk in the history of the sport. Despite all of Manfred’s other mistakes in his seemingly never-ending quest to kill the sport, this would be his biggest mistake of all.

And that’s just the issues with this year. That says nothing about how ugly things will get after the 2021 season and the end of the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. A sport that has had labor peace for 25 years was already loaded for bear. These negotiations have not made the relationship between the two sides healthier.

Regardless of your position on this, it’s hard to have sympathy for either side. As much as I love baseball, this argument is again one between billionaires and millionaires over money. In a country where 100,000 people have died in a pandemic, people have been home for months, there is heightened anxiety and racial strife and unemployment has flirted with 20%, the American public is not going to be interested in defending either side.

Bluntly, if the entire baseball season gets canceled, most people won’t notice. That pains me to write, but the reality is there. Baseball junkies have been able to get their fix by watching baseball from Taiwan on Twitch or baseball from South Korea on ESPN, but the American public doesn’t have the interest in the national pastime it used to.

Which is why it is so important for an agreement to happen so players can get on the field. The American public is craving for live content, for new content. For sports content. ESPN has been stuck airing the NBA2K League and sports reruns. Same for Fox Sports and NBC Sports for the most part. If baseball was already back, it would have the entire entertainment field to itself, competing only against reruns, reality shows, and pro wrestling. The players and the owners are wasting a golden opportunity to try to burrow back into the hearts of Americans who may have left the game behind. No, it’s not the same as Cal Ripken breaking the streak after the 1995 strike. But the opportunity has been there and, so far, both sides are wasting it.

For the good of the game and the good of the country, both sides really need to get a grip, get a deal, and get back on the field.