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A plea to MLB owners

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Note, just owners. Not players. The fault here is clear.

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Today, June 10, was a date that had been batted about (see! a baseball metaphor!) for the start of Spring Training 2.0, with a possible beginning of an 82-game 2020 MLB season beginning around July 1.

Instead, we sit with no news, no starting dates, no certainty about what’s going to be played at all, though owners noted they wanted players to respond to their latest offer by today. Late Tuesday, there was a counteroffer:

Well, we’re getting somewhere, I think. This is at least movement.

The players are at 89 games, owners at 76. Midpoint of that is... 82.5, so maybe, just maybe, we can get a season going. At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellic posted another article about the slow-as-molasses pace of negotiations which should have a lot more urgency at this point. Here’s just one possible sticking point:

The league says it wants to play as many games as possible and considers the implementation of a schedule consisting of one-third the normal 162 games or less to be a last resort, knowing it would produce negative consequences.

Under such a scenario, star players with contracts extending beyond 2020 might prefer to sit out rather than risk contracting the virus for 23 to 35 percent of their pay (under the league’s proposal, only high-risk players would receive salary and service time if they opted out of the 2020 season). Even if such stars play, fans would be left to ponder the legitimacy of a shorter schedule, as opposed to one consisting of approximately half the number of usual games. The union likely would file a grievance seeking financial damages, saying the league did not make a good-faith effort to play as many games as possible, sources said.

“Financial damages.” It always comes down to money, right?

I posted numbers here Tuesday that show how little a difference there is between what owners are currently offering and what players say they agreed to back in March:

The difference noted above between the full pro-rated salaries ($1,909,436,000 — seems Passan left out three zeroes in the tweet) and the offer ($1,431,716,000) is about $477.7 million.

Now, $477 million isn’t nothing — but you’d think this could create some movement on both sides. Could they meet in the middle? That would mean moving about 12.5 percent in each direction, about $238.5 million.

Again, that’s not nothing, but even in this season of lost ticket revenues, you’d think owners could find $238.5 million worth of movement. That’s about $7.95 million per team, or to put it another way, slightly more than the Cubs had contracted to pay Kyle Schwarber this year ($7.01 million) before life was disrupted by COVID-19.

This is what owners are going to blow up the 2020 season for? $477 million? In 2019, MLB was a $10.1 billion business. 4.7 percent. Four point seven.

Now, I will grant owners this: MLB isn’t going to be a $10.1 billion business in 2020, not with no ticket sales, concessions or other money coming in from opening ballparks every day. Stipulated. Owners say that’s about 40 percent of their business, some teams report less, others more. All right, so we’re talking about a $6 billion business, then, with local and national TV money providing the bulk of that.

Well, now we’re up to about eight percent of the total that, per the owners’ own math, could come in this year.

And really, MLB owners? I’ll repeat: You’re going to blow up the business when you (presumably) have 92 percent of potential revenues coming in?

Some owners, including Tom Ricketts, say they have a cash-flow problem. Without having MLB books opened, none of us can be certain that’s true. But let’s assume for the moment that it is.

What about the profits made over the last decade or so? The link above says it all goes back into the team, but surely there must be some reserves, and stop calling me Shirley, that could make up that small amount of compromise. You’d think.

BCB’s Sara Sanchez wrote on this topic as well on Tuesday and concluded:

Only one side is really negotiating here: the players. I wouldn’t take that deal and players shouldn’t either. They shouldn’t take that deal when they are being asked to do more dangerous work in a pandemic and they CERTAINLY shouldn’t take that deal 18 months before they have to negotiate their next long-term collective bargaining agreement.

Owners are hoping fans will get so tired of this back and forth that their desperation for baseball will turn them against the players just in time to negotiate a sweetheart deal when the CBA expires in 2021. That plan relies on disgusting the people who love this game. People like you and I, reading this blog in a time with no baseball. Don’t fall for the divisive tactics, stand with the players who deserve better than this sham masquerading as a negotiation.

She’s right. While the NBA has a plan to begin around July 31, the NHL has approved a postseason plan (though without specific dates) and the NFL is still going full-speed-ahead with plans to play their season as scheduled, MLB dithers. MLB owners are playing hardball with players without, seemingly, understanding the tremendous damage they are doing to their brand.

Based on the owners’ apparent attitude, it’s no wonder Commissioner Rob Manfred, when referring to whether the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 World Series trophy, called it a “piece of metal.” He walked that back a day later, but I think that showed his true feelings. Owners in general don’t appear to care about baseball itself, the game, the fans, the culture, the history, with perhaps a few exceptions. Profit has taken its place at the top of their wish list. Again, as I have said before: These are businesses and I do not begrudge them making money. That’s an understood part of the game.

But there are also loyalties to baseball teams (and other sports teams) that you don’t see in any other business. Owners trample on these loyalties at their peril.

And so I’ll wrap this with a plea to baseball moguls, which was first published by The Athletic’s Jayson Stark: Please don’t drive the game off this cliff.