The dance continues.
In attempts to salvage a baseball season in 2020, negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA have had more twists and turns than a mid-day soap opera.
A face-to-face meeting between Rob Manfred and Tony Clark on Wednesday left MLB suspecting they had a deal. On Thursday, those expectations were met with another counter offer from the Players Association, which was welcomed with angst from the owners; another counter from MLB is expected.
The dance continues.
Unfortunately, at this dance, the main participants are millionaires and the billionaires that gave them their contracts to begin with. The wallflowers along the side walls who cannot get involved are the fans. They stand on opposite sides of the room as some hate the owners while others hate the players. What both sides agree on is that during a pandemic, they wish they had what the couple on the dance floor both have: money.
The fans are not happy about it.
In a tale as old as time, the forgotten wallflower takes to whatever platform available to throw their hands up and say, “I’ll never watch again!”
Some say the owners are not at fault and the employees should just play. Others side with the players, appreciating the risk of playing under restrictions with no safety net should they contract the virus or sustain a career-ending injury in a contract year.
This is a lose-lose for all parties.
Clearly, it all boils down to the almighty dollar. During this back-and-forth negotiation, the players want to play more games. At the time of this writing, they have proposed a 70-game season, but it feels like only yesterday they suggested 100 to 120 games. Why? Because both sides have agreed that a pro rata system where players are paid for the number of games played is fair. The players want more games, and therefore more money.
On the opposition’s side, the owners maintain that without fans buying $14 beers and spending six bucks for a hot pretzel, they will go broke. That is not true, but proponents of the ownership’s side maintain that this is a business and you cannot expect to run a successful one operating on a loss. Plus, even small market teams with stands nearly empty have increased the value of their franchise exponentially over the last several years. A fledgling Miami Marlins team was bought for a whopping $1.2 billion. The Tampa Bay Rays, bought for $200 million in 2004, now holds a value of $1.05 billion—empty stands and all.
The core issue between MLB and the MLBPA is finances, but they need to read the room. Fans are becoming disenchanted and it harkens back to the strike of 1994, although it is a little different this time around. This should not be about money; it should be about not continuing the alienation of those fans amid another petty squabble. Clark, Manfred, and the organizations they represent are likely to have a contentious negotiation just over a year from now at the close of the 2021 season when the collective bargaining agreement expires. The more bad blood between the two sides during this standoff just adds more gas to the fire for that one, and the fans are far more aware of that fact than MLB knows.
Assuming there is baseball this season, we will watch. Even the people screaming “I’m done with baseball!” will come crawling back, and the league knows that. However, people need some sort of diversion from everything going on in the country and around the world. Sports has always been a savior in the throes of disaster, and it should be now. Events like Sept. 11 and the Boston Marathon bombing were aided in the healing process by sports returning and helping to add much needed distraction to a nation on edge. Two sides arguing over what (to them) is essentially pocket change does nothing but exasperate a legion of fans that just need something.
The NBA, NHL, and MLS already have developed plans to get started again, with slight complications which were foreseeable, but everything appears to be on track. Manfred needs to realize that if the commissioners of the former two sports are making you look bad, you are really in deep. With an intense labor discussion lurking after 2021, now more than ever it is time to put everything aside and play ball. They may not lose many fans for this delay, but if the season is canceled and there are any bumps during the negotiations next winter (spoiler alert: there will be), that is when your audience will start bailing on a league that is already starved for a younger fan base.
Here is what the owners should be concerned with: operating at a minor loss (maybe) in 2020 is nothing compared to operating at a loss for the next five years because you couldn’t get out of your own way and put a product on the field while still catering to issues of money, players’ health, and not being sued for breaking an agreement you made in March.
Do the right thing and take the loss.
Everyone else in this country already has taken one during this pandemic.
Remember the MLB ad campaign that told the public to “let the kids play”?
That was only a year ago.
It’s time for baseball to take its own advice.