A beautiful thing about baseball is that it’s impossible for one side to run out the clock. The game exists in a place outside of time, and instead, progression is marked by an equal number of outs. Both sides have the same number of opportunities to come out on top. This symmetry of design isn’t present in other soccer, football, basketball, or hockey nor is it present in labor negotiations.
After 88 days, MLB is set to impose a schedule per the March agreement. Reports are that the season will be 60 games and begin in late July and run through the end of September. The playoff structure will remain the same, and the DH won’t be coming to the National League; rejoice or shake your fist accordingly. Importantly, the players also reserve the right to file a grievance.
This isn’t a done deal just quite yet. Players need to be ready to report to spring training on July 1 and players need to agree to health and safety protocols for a season to be officially announced. For a season to actually happen, teams need to be able to practice and play in safety, something they haven’t been able to do as several players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week.
With the abject failure of the federal and local governments to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the MLB season shouldn’t be played. Players and staff have already gotten sick. Five Phillies players and three other personnel tested positive last week at the team’s spring training complex in Clearwater. Two players with the Angels and another for the Astros have also tested positive.
Many questions remain regarding the coronavirus. In a piece Monday, Russell Carleton asked what will happen if there’s an outbreak among the players, coaches, and support staff? Where’s the point of no return? The Orlando Pride of the NWSL had to pull out of the Challenger’s Cup because 10 players tested positive. Would a baseball team do the same?
It’s not MLB’s fault that America whiffed on COVID-19.* If the season falls through because of public health concerns, that’s unfortunate but understandable. It still would have been important for MLB to agree to a framework for the season that wasn’t a blatant ploy to minimize losses at the expense of the sport. The economic portion of that framework could have been decided 88 days ago. Instead, ownership has instead, showed us who they really are.
*Well, it sort of is. Charles Johnson (Giants), Arte Moreno (Angels), Tom Ricketts (Cubs), and John Malone (Braves) are some of Donald Trump’s biggest campaign donors in the sports world. Trump has willingly sabotaged America’s response to the pandemic.
Before letting Rob Manfred impose a season that isn’t worth much more than their initial offer, MLB could have agreed to the 70-game proposal last week or it could have quickly countered with 65 games. It could have not tried to walk back the March agreement in which players submitted to massive pay cuts despite putting themselves at a health risk.
The timeline of negotiations has been slow, and often it was ownership who was dragging their collective feet. Ahead of the unofficial June 1 deadline for a deal, MLB could have sent their first economic proposal earlier than May 20. Owners had come to an agreement two weeks prior. It took another week for a second offer. The union made a counteroffer within five days, and the league took over a week to make a rebuttal. The union had a second counteroffer the next day.
Days passed from Wilpon/Manfred comments about needing to renegotiate March agreement until first MLB proposal: 41— Craig Edwards (@craigjedwards) June 11, 2020
Days for union response: 5
Days for MLB response: 8
Days for union response: 1 pic.twitter.com/SnxIc3BAAm
If it’s impossible to play more than 60 games now, it’s because the owners added more than a month to the negotiation period. The owners were going to get what they wanted from the beginning. They’ve just had to run out the clock in order to do it. Leave it to a group of anti-baseball billionaires to pull a tactic that’s inherently anti-baseball.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.