MLBPA puts season, such as it is, in Rob Manfred’s hands

Even before the pandemic stoppage slid in before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement to threaten multiple seasons over a three-year window, Major League Baseball tended to be its own worst enemy. Pace of play, especially in the postseason. The cooling of the hot stove season. Rampant tanking. Invisibility of stars. Had the league been able to conduct business as usual, the reaction to the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing would have been a persistent thorn in its side.

The numerous peacetime problems suggested there were some major flaws in the state of the sport just asking for a reckoning, and the owners seem to be stepping in it.

Originally, I figured the subject of this post would be the exchange between the MLB and MLBPA that took place mostly on Friday. In its latest proposal to the union, the league continued its pattern of offering a similar amount of money in different packages.

But this time, MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem opened by accusing the MLBPA of dealing in bad faith.

“I must have misinterpreted your June 6th letter,” Halem tells Meyer. “I thought the letter reflected a willingness on the part of the Association to discuss in good faith the economics necessary for the Office of the Commissioner to waive its right under the March Agreement to resume the 2020 season only when there are, among other things, no restrictions on fan access. After reviewing the Association’s counterproposal, I stand corrected.”

When it comes to bad faith, the MLBPA could have simply countered with “he who smelt it dealt it,” but the union countered by suggesting it has receipts that undercut the league’s posturing:

It should not be forgotten however that even MLB admits that our March Agreement does not require players to agree to further pay cuts. Indeed, as Mr. Halem agreed in a May 18 letter to Tony Clark: ‘The Association is free to take the position that players are unwilling to accept further reductions.’ Pat Houlihan, MLB legal counsel, similarly acknowledged in his May 22 letter to the Players Association. ‘We agree with the Association that, under the Agreement, players are not required to accept less than their full prorated salary.’’

Though testy, that exchange still stayed within the bounds of the proposal/response/counterproposal format.

A later statement Saturday evening, in which the MLBPA called the league’s bluff, did not.

The “new reports regarding MLB’s national television rights” was the report of MLB’s fresh billion-dollar deal with Turner for postseason games, which I imagine had Rob Manfred charging out of the bathroom with pants around his ankles demanding the New York Post to keep the story quiet.

Major League Baseball has tried to insinuate throughout the process that the players’ right to prorated salary must be put back on the table in the event of no fans …

… but Larry pointed out that “premised on the parties’ mutual understanding” is a way to say that they forgot to put something important in the contract. And as Craig Calcaterra pointed out, the league hasn’t treated players with that kind of respect when they’ve had an edge in the gray area.

In the past, I’ve urged fans to reconsider praising bad-faith dealings as “smart,” since it mostly worsens the product and poisons the well for no clear long-term benefits. Alas, when players get outmaneuvered or outleveraged, they’re told to stop complaining and negotiate better the next time around. But hey, this here is the bed the owners made, and the players are pressing their advantage with a simple, clear message: We want to play. Tell us when.

Bob Nightengale said that the league would not be coming up with another proposal, so now it’s up to Manfred to determine whether he wants to play, and how many games. If he picks the lowest possible number and doesn’t even get an expanded postseason out of it, it reads to me like a rather remarkable caving to the whims of cash-poor teams.

* * * * * * * * *

If there’s any solace to be found, it’s that all this conflict still might be moot, because other sports are showing that other world concerns remain very much in play.

The NBA was seemingly on track to open its playoffs under a bubble in Orlando on mid-July, which was the kind of development that made MLB’s issues look uniquely self-inflicted. Instead, it just seems like the NBA took a lot longer to encounter the “human zoo” objections to the bubble, which was something MLB players fought early.

Maybe the NBA could have gotten away with it before the protests to police brutality circled the globe, but putting a largely African-American league in isolation as a “distraction” to world events isn’t sitting well with a sizable portion of the players.

Meanwhile, the University of Houston had to stop voluntary workouts after six of its athletes tested positive for coronavirus. Texas set state records for COVID-19 hospitalizations on Friday and Saturday, and that’s the state that intends to allow 20,000 fans in its stadiums if and when baseball resumes.

Major League Baseball might have squandered an opportunity to regain its former share of the nation’s sports attention, but the coronavirus remains a formidable obstacle. There’s a certain strength in numbers now, in that if the pandemic makes the credible completion of a season impossible, history won’t judge Major League Baseball as the only league that was dumb enough to try it.

(Photo by Arturo Pardavila III)

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Default image
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

Articles: 3558
24 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eagle Bones

The owners trying to use the other team employees as a shield in that statement is absolutely disgusting. I never cared for the owners but they are really coming off as truly vile through this whole thing. Someone needs to muzzle the individual owners too because each of these quotes we get from DeWitt, kendrick, etc is even more ridiculous than the last.

GrinnellSteve

Eat the rich. I’d like to see the players bust the Owners Union once and for all.

asinwreck

It’s kind of perfect that this was the year Marvin Miller was elected to the Hall of Fame. May the speech someone gives on his behalf in Cooperstown when it is safe to do so just flay the league for half an hour.

lil jimmy

As bad as things seem, it will get worse. I try to be positive, but I see at least two years of choppy seas ahead.

karkovice squad

the coronavirus remains a formidable obstacle.

MLB would have been better served by putting all the money it’s paying its lawyers for their end of negotiations towards lobbying the USG and states for a better response to the pandemic.

karkovice squad

To put it another way: MLB owners would rather not pay their employees–or they’d rather achieve whatever other political goals they had–than have the conditions for a safe, full season of regular profits.

dwjm3

As I read Jim’s article an imagine crept into my head of ole Jerry sitting in a Zoom call with the other owners pushing to play hardball with the MLBPA. He hasn’t been quoting publicly like some of the chief antagonizers, but I hardly doubt he is pushing to cut a deal.

I also bet he had to be told by his son how to operate said Zoom call as he didn’t know how to use the technology.

This was always a chief worry of ours. The Sox get good and there is no games to be played.

dwjm3

If I read that piece correctly the Sox are in pretty solid shape with a Manfred forced 50 or so game season. In essence the Sox just need some baseball played this year.

phillyd

Wasn’t Reinsdorf not thrilled with the selection of Manfred as coming? Does that have an effect on his role this go round?

lil jimmy

Trying to figure how screwed the Ricketts are. They bought the team for 900 million, with mostly debt. The figure for buying up the roof tops is 25 million, financed I assume. McDonalds was 20 million. Park improvements 700 million we are told, financed I assume. The Hotel was 12 million down, 151 million financed.
This is an over leveraged disaster. Income from this mess is barely dribbling in.
If I’m Tom Ricketts, I’m having trouble sleeping.

asinwreck

“Dad, can you free up some of that TD money?”

lil jimmy

Or just drop dead?

dwjm3

I thought he brought in some equity by selling some minority stakes.

lil jimmy

but wait there’s more. The Sox have limited season tickets and tickets sold ahead of time. The Cubs demand payment in December. Now they have to refund them. Probably 2.4 million tickets refunded. Plus “Marquee” and their new slogan. “Marquee, 100% content free!”

karkovice squad

Forbes’ analysis doesn’t think the team is particularly leveraged.

The Ricketts Family Trust might be, tho. But between the rest of their wealth and creditors offering forbearance because they’d rather see the notes paid in full than take a haircut through bankruptcy, I’m guessing the Trust isn’t hurting all that much.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

It rules that if the owners would have done the most prudent thing: fully postpone the season due to health concerns they would have lost the least amount of money (…allegedly) and would have gained a ton of good will with fans and the union. They players would be in a tough spot in terms of pay obviously but at least the result wouldn’t be pissing off literally everyone associated with the game.

Instead, since because every rich person thinks they a galaxy brained business genius based solely on the fact they are rich they’ve negotiated themselves into a lose-lose-lose scenario.

NDSox12

I doubt cancelling the season before it was completely necessary to do so would have earned the owners good will from fans or the union.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

No, but it would have avoided the ruinous path they’ve set themselves down on now that’s likely going to poison at least the next two seasons. Plus, if things go completely sideways in terms of player/staff/fan safety if and when American sports return in 2020 they would look, dare I say, competent in hindsight.

It wouldn’t have been a popular choice, but it would have been a bold one and one that reflected some level of progressive thinking. Instead they’ve ended up having to say out loud ‘actually playing more baseball means we lose money’.

bonomo

Looking forward to this.

peanutsNcrackerjack

It’s Gio Gonzales’ fault that there will be no baseball this year.

burning-phoneix

The man has some supernatural ability to avoid playing in Sox pinstripes.