Live sports is coming back at long last. It’s a development that, for many people, has been a long time coming.
The NFL is proceeding with the 2020 season as normal despite the current circumstances. The NHL has announced a restructured postseason to ensure that they get a winner. The NBA has also put together their own plan to finish their season, pending a choice of players to either play or protest racial injustice in light of the recent killings of George Floyd and other African-Americans. Even the WNBA, European football, auto racing, and combat sports like the UFC have either resumed or have set plans to resume.
These developments have only made the recent events regarding the resumption of the 2020 MLB season all the more head-scratching, infuriating, and generally depressing to watch.
On June 13, it appeared as if negotiations between the MLB and the MLB Players Association fell through for the final time. After the MLBPA rejected the MLB’s recent plan for a 72-game season at 80 percent prorated pay, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark put the collective foot of the players down. “It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where,” said Clark in an issued statement.
With that statement, whatever hope was left for even a remotely peaceful resolution was evaporated. Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely hold all of the cards for how the season goes, which means a season hovering around 50 games and a little over 30 percent of full player salary. Both sides came away stuck at their positions, and now have effectively created a lose-lose situation for themselves and multiple uninvolved parties.
The disruption became even further prevalent in Manfred’s tonal shift on the season starting. Before the MLB Draft, Manfred couldn’t have been any more optimistic about the season beginning, ensuring restless baseball fans that there would be a season. However, with dialogue between the players and league nonexistent at this point and a shortened season looking more like the only option remaining, Manfred has admitted that he’s less confident that a 2020 season will occur at all.
Assuming there is even a season to begin with, the league and Players Association can file grievances against the other. Both sides would likely say that the other failed to negotiate in good faith, pushing arguments to the point of no return. The league has even doubled down, threatening not to issue a season schedule unless the right to a grievance hearing is waived by the players. In another statement issued by Clark and put out on his Twitter page, there is no reason to believe that there is a possibility of that happening.
It may be time to accept the cruel but seemingly inevitable reality: the 2020 MLB season may be lost. And the MLB may have nobody but themselves to blame for whatever happens next.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, never shy of voicing an opinion on the state of the game, has been one of the most vocal critics of the MLB’s handling of the situation. In a Twitter thread, Bauer presented his theory of how the MLB has operated during negotiations. The shortened season keeps player costs down, while an expanded playoff format promoted by the owners keeps their revenues up. Add to this the inclusion of a letter from Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem ripping into the Players Association’s handling, and the players have every right to feel mistreated. That’s not even including the other arguments such as players sitting out the season, little to no fan excitement, and a product that will attract no attention as it likely will be forced to compete with the returns of the NBA and NHL.
And there’s reason to believe that this impasse can get worse before it gets better.
The current collective bargaining agreement for the MLB ends after the 2021 season, and the failure of these negotiations will mean both players and owners will enter those meetings with a sense of distrust towards the other side. What it leads to is, potentially, the first work stoppage in MLB history since 1994. Remember when the Montreal Expos appeared destined to be champions that year? When Tony Gwynn and Matt Williams were on the verge of making baseball history? How the league didn’t quite recover until 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run race sparked interest and unknowingly kickstarted the MLB’s Steroid Era? Imagine that happening again, but within just a couple years of yet another lockdown.
The more these negotiations stalled, the more baseball fans had reason to fear that the MLB wouldn’t come at all. Now, those fears have become more realistic than ever, and the long-term damage it can do to the game could be catastrophic for the game.