Manfred: MLB season no longer certainty

Field Level Media

June 16, 2020 at 2:08 am.

Five days after saying he was “100 percent” certain a Major League Baseball season would be played, commissioner Rob Manfred expressed a different sentiment Monday.

Manfred’s latest comments drew a fiery reaction from Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, who said players are “disgusted” by the commissioner’s stance.

Manfred said while speaking with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg on the network’s special featuring commissioners of multiple sports, “I’m not confident (a season will be played). I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue.”

Manfred blamed what he termed as the players union’s “decision to end good-faith negotiations” and the need for the sides to agree on health protocols.

“The owners are a hundred percent committed to getting baseball back on the field,” Manfred said on ESPN. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m a hundred percent certain that’s gonna happen. …

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”

Clark responded on the union’s Twitter feed, “Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told Players and fans that there would ‘100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back and his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season.

“Any implication that the Players Association has somehow delayed progress on health and safety protocols is completely false, as Rob has recently acknowledged the parties are ‘very very close.’

“This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from Players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”

In addition, the Los Angeles Times reported that MLB sent a letter to the union on Monday, stating that the season would not be held unless the players waived all legal claims against management.

While all major U.S. sports leagues shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, MLB has experienced the most difficult (and public) debate over a restart plan.

Team owners and the MLBPA have gone back and forth exchanging plans for a partial season, with the major sticking point being the percentage of prorated salaries that players would receive.

The sides reached an agreement on March 26 over a plan for 2020, with the players guaranteed full prorated pay. However, the owners maintain that the deal was predicated on fans being in the stands for games, and with play now likely to commence in front of empty stadiums, they believe a new deal must be reached to account for the vastly different economic landscape.

In recent weeks, MLB proposed various schedule lengths under which the players would receive different prorated pay percentages — the more games, the lower the percentage. The union has refused to move off its stance that it will only accept full prorated pay, adjusting its proposals by merely changing the number of proposed games.

On Saturday, the union announced it had rejected the owners’ latest proposal and declined to offer a counterproposal, with Clark saying in a statement, “It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile.” Clark then called on the league to set a schedule and inform players when and where they would be playing.

Both sides agree that the March 26 pact allowed Manfred to unilaterally institute a shortened season — reportedly around 50 games — with players getting full prorated salaries. However, Manfred appeared to indicate Monday that he is not prepared to take that step barring movement from the MLBPA.

“I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players full prorated salary, that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26th,” Manfred said on ESPN. “Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union’s top lawyer was out telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule — as they requested — they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars.

“Obviously, that sort of bad-faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances.”

Later Monday, USA Today reported that MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to lead MLBPA attorney Bruce Meyer that “several” major league players and staffers have tested positive for COVID-19. The point was made as part of MLB’s argument against starting spring training soon and also against continuing the regular season into October.

“The proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country over the last week, and the fact that we already know of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive, has increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks,” Halem wrote, according to USA Today.

“I note that both the NBA and NHL, two leagues which you repeatedly reference in your letter, do not intend to resume play until about August 1, and both intend to resume play at a limited number of sites with a quarantine approach.

“Please let us know the Association’s views on quarantining players in league-approved hotels (like the NBA’s Disney World model) when they are not at the ballpark if conditions worsen over the next few weeks. (You told us in the spring that players were opposed to that scenario, which is why we explored alternative scenarios, but let us know if that position has changed.)

“If the players remain opposed to quarantine measures, please explain why you feel it is safe for baseball to return to play without a quarantine type approach, and to do so sooner, and play later into the Fall, than the other professional sports that intend to use those measures.”