Credit where it’s due: The catchphrase in the headline to this article was invented by NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra, and Craig usually brings it out when people say baseball’s a dying sport, yet there’s some major positive development. An example from 2017:
Baseball is dying, you guys. https://t.co/kV6Jq9vrhp— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 3, 2017
But this morning, the phrase has a different meaning.
This time, Major League Baseball is killing itself, and by this I mean team owners and Commissioner Rob Manfred are strangling the life out of it by playing games with the 2020 season, its length and its pay, and in so doing are attempting by public statements to shift blame for the possibility we won’t have a season to the players.
Shame on you, Rob. Seriously, shame. This would not be happening if Bud Selig were still Commissioner, and that’s a strong statement, so let me explain.
I’ve said recently that I don’t think Manfred really likes baseball, at least not in the way we as baseball fans love the game. Selig did, without a doubt. And that’s the primary reason we had labor peace for 25 years. Selig was a conciliator. There were absolutely warring factions within ownership through all those 25 years, but Selig had the ability to help them understand that if they’d all just get along, tons of money could be made. And it was.
Now, we have a lawyer in charge. And that — lawyer games, not baseball — are the games Manfred appears to love:
A former senior MLB employee shares some insight on Rob Manfred’s background, and how it can inform what we’re seeing right now: pic.twitter.com/m8AuBKF2KI— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) June 15, 2020
Many of you likely remember Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who ran the sport from 1969-84. Kuhn’s background, like Manfred’s, was in corporate law. And Kuhn was perhaps even more reviled than Manfred by fans. His regime ruled over two labor stoppages (1972 and 1981), the latter killing a third of a season and then perhaps producing an illegitimate champion because owners and the Commissioner’s office botched the way the season was divided.
That’s what we have now. A lawyer who wants to “get things done” and “beat you.” This is one of the things that lawyer said in an interview Monday:
Manfred admits on ESPN this has been “a disaster” in terms of optics for MLB. That’s something we can all agree on.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) June 15, 2020
It should be noted that Jon Heyman is usually in the owners’ back pocket. For him to send a tweet like this doesn’t make things look good for ownership. Who created this “disaster”? Manfred and the owners. It can’t be positioned any other way, not now.
Monday’s events began to spin out of MLB’s control after the MLB Players Association issued this statement:
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark today released the following statement: pic.twitter.com/ibyOqB93WC— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 15, 2020
You know, I’ve previously written that Tony Clark should stop making public statements, but this one was spot-on. The owners have not negotiated in good faith throughout this process, instead dressing the same offer for a 2020 season in different clothing on multiple occasions and pretending they’re actually “negotiating.” It’s absolutely clear: They’re not doing so. Instead, this is what’s actually going on:
Quite a turn of events for MLB— Craig Edwards (@craigjedwards) June 15, 2020
1. Accuse players of acting in bad faith
2. Guarantee a baseball season
3. Say you can't start the baseball season because an impartial third party might find MLB acted in bad faith.
It seems to come down to this: The baseball owners, who have made billions and been given sweetheart leases and absurd tax breaks and the legal freedom to run a monopoly, are unwilling to give back even a little to their communities and support the very game that they represent.— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) June 16, 2020
Translation: We won't play unless you waive a potential grievance.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 15, 2020
Seriously, MLB? This is what you think players should do? You can imagine what the answer to that is going to be, and it’s probably got some choice profanity attached to it.
Many players have weighed in on the current baseball crisis on social media, including Cubs players:
What a JOKE— Willson Contreras (@WContreras40) June 15, 2020
Can we bring Bud Selig back?— Steven Souza Jr. (@SouzaJr) June 15, 2020
Dear Adam Silver,— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) June 15, 2020
... you up?
- MLB Players
Rob Manfred and the owners are walking back on their word...AGAIN. The fans do not deserve this. So I’ll say it one more time, tell us when and where.— Max Scherzer (@Max_Scherzer) June 16, 2020
And then, from an unlikely source:
So, Rob, explain to us how you can be 100% sure that there’s going to be baseball but not confident there will be baseball at the same time? hmmm. What changed between those statements Players told you to set the season, but it’s too early to set the season right now,— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 15, 2020
When Trevor Bauer is the voice of reason, we have truly stepped through the looking glass.
This is, in the end, about money, and Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post sums up the relatively small amount of money owners say they can’t do without in a 2020 season:
The difference between Major League Baseball’s last rejected offer to its players for a return to play and the cost in salaries to have a reasonable 81-game season at full pay per game is about $600 million, or about $20 million per team.
MLB acts as if absorbing such a cost — for the sake of the game, for the sake of fans and (as we’ll see) out of basic fairness — is a pandemic-induced, sport-threatening catastrophe that must be avoided.
That’s a lie. A huge, mind-boggling lie.
Here’s why: The average MLB team has increased in value by more than $1 billion in just the past six years, from $811 million to $1.852 billion. That’s according to Statista 2020, but all estimates are similar.
What the devil is $20 million per team when the average team has been increasing in value by $173.5 million per year?
It is the cost of doing business — and fabulous business at that.
That’s it. Summed up in six paragraphs, the problem. Owners are holding the sport we love hostage for, on a per-team average, what the Cubs are contracted to pay Jon Lester this year (had there been a full season).
Granted and stipulated (to use Manfred-like legal terms) that team owners are without approximately 40 percent of their total revenues this year. They won’t open their books so the MLBPA or the public can see if this is really true, but let’s give them this for the sake of argument.
That means that 60 percent of revenues are still coming in — especially if the proposed expanded playoffs, already agreed to by players, happen this fall. In a business that took in over $10 billion in 2019, that’s likely over $6 billion... and they’re claiming they can’t pay players their full prorated salaries for an (approximately) 80-game season?
Nonsense. Balderdash. Bunk. Baloney. Malarkey. Poppycock. Hooey. Bilge. Claptrap. Tommyrot. Here, go look up some more synonyms yourself.
Every single business in North America is hurting in 2020. Owners are essentially saying that players need to allow them to profit this year, instead of swallowing a one-year, short-term loss that might help them toward better gains in the future. Need further proof of the money issue?
Agent Joel Wolfe on @MLB owners crying poverty:— Patrick Saunders (@psaundersdp) June 15, 2020
"The Marlins played without fans for 15 years, yet still managed to give a player the biggest contract in sports history (Stanton), and then sold the team for a Billion dollar profit, with 5 competing buyers."
Baseball is dying, you guys. And team owners are the ones killing it. This is what you’ve turned MLB into, Rob Manfred:
Has any sport had a worse last 365 days than baseball? Manfred rips Trout, massive cheating scandal, minor leagues as a whole are attacked...by the commissioner, teams tanking, juiced baseball, and basically suicide by not coming to an agreement on how to proceed w/ a season.— Stirrups Now! (@uniformcritic) June 15, 2020
That’s quite a legacy, Rob. You will likely be remembered as the worst Commissioner in baseball history. Yes, I get it, Rob’s just doing the job owners want him to, and they’re certainly culpable in this catastrophe for the sport. But Manfred is the public face of the sport, and every time he opens his mouth on television he makes things worse.
Just to make it even more clear that this is all on owners, not players, read this from Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic:
Some on the players’ side have long believed some owners might prefer to cancel the season for financial purposes, regardless of any potential grievance. Manfred said Monday, however, that “the owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100 percent certain that’s gonna happen,” he added.
Manfred needs 75 percent of the owners, or 23, to move forward with a schedule of his choosing. Whether he has that support at present is unclear.
“There are definitely more than eight owners who don’t want to play,” one player agent said.
Even though it’s June 16, it’s not too late for owners to reverse course. They could still have a season of around 80 games if — right now, today — they agreed to pay players their full pro-rated salaries for such a season, had them report to Spring Training 2.0 by the end of the week and started games around July 10. They’d have to play some doubleheaders to finish up by the owners’ desired regular-season completion date of Sept. 27, but players have already signaled their willingness to do so.
So get it done. Now. Today. Stop killing baseball.
Before this does:
AP: MLB letter obtained by The Associated Press says several players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) June 15, 2020
Now, that in itself might be a negotiating ploy by owners. It seems very likely that letter was leaked by MLB to give them the position that, “Oh, now we can’t play because of the pandemic.” Which might, in fact, be a reasonable position to take, but does anyone trust owners right now, besides owners and Manfred?
I mentioned NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra at the beginning of this article, and I’ll wrap this one by linking this long article Craig posted Tuesday morning which sums up the current crisis and lays out possible solutions. It’s worth your time.
Let’s play ball. Because if MLB doesn’t in 2020, they just might kill the sport.