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There’s a good lesson to be learned from the MLB and MLBPA news conferences

The differences between how the league and the players presented themselves couldn’t have been more clear.

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark and Mets pitcher Max Scherzer arrive for negotiations in Jupiter, Florida

I know better than to believe twitter, but I admit that I was duped. Late on Monday night as the blue checkmarks started to break the news that MLB was going to extend their self-imposed deadline to cancel games and continue negotiating with the MLBPA for one more day, I almost felt some hope that maybe, perhaps, the dread I’ve felt about the league and players’ ability to successfully negotiate a CBA this year might have been overblown. After all, when push came to shove and the clock was really ticking on missing games, it appeared the two sides might, finally, be willing to get down to brass tacks and work out a deal.

Alas, as Al noted yesterday, that all appears to have been a PR ploy designed to make the players look unreasonable. There was no deal as the owners presented their latest offer. The MLBPA rejected that offer unanimously, and then both sides held press conferences to try and explain their position.

We don’t get to see a lot of what goes on in these negotiations. After all, none of us are there. We can’t generally judge the atmosphere of the talks, or the body language during a tense conversation. But press conferences provide us a small window into the process where we can see the news unfold in real time. So today I wanted to take a closer look at what we did (and did not) see in MLB Network’s coverage of yesterday’s press conferences after MLB announced they would cancel the first two series of the 2022 regular season.

Rob Manfred laughing

Let’s be clear about something, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is in no danger of winning any congeniality awards. He’s not particularly likable, and to be fair, that’s not why he has his job. Manfred is the Commissioner of the nation’s pastime because the owners trust him to make decisions that make them more money. He’s been very good at that since he took on this role, as you can see here:

MLB revenue growth compared to the CBT threshold and player salaries
The Athletic

I don’t need the Commissioner to be a guy I want to have a beer with. That said, it would be nice if he could begin a press conference announcing an outcome he termed “disastrous” in December without laughing:

Angels reliever Michael Lorenzen is correct that this is a mind-blowing lack of awareness from Manfred. But beyond the terrible optics, it turned out empty laughter inadvertently set the correct tenor for Manfred’s remarks as he represented the league and owner’s position from the podium.

Manfred opened the presser by trying to limit Yahoo Sports’ Hannah Keyser to a single question, she asked her follow-up regardless, and he answered it, well, kind of. From her story:

On the 90th day of an owner-implemented lockout and the ninth straight day of in-person bargaining, the league and union were unable to reach a mutually tolerable collective bargaining agreement. A full package proposal made by MLB before its own self-imposed deadline was rejected by the union, which did not see a point in countering what it was told was a “best and final” offer.

Later, however, in his news conference, Manfred said that the league’s position has “a little wiggle room somewhere.”

That phrasing is important because a “last and best” offers are what come before bargaining reaches an impasse. If you were looking to Manfred’s press conference for clarity on whether this offer was, in fact, the “last and best” offer, you’re likely still looking.

That was really the tone of the entire event. You see, MLB really meant the “last and best” offer before the “deadline” to miss regular season games. They fully intend to keep negotiating now — which is good for baseball’s immediate future, but bad for any fan who wants to actually understand how negotiations are progressing.

When Manfred was asked about the above deadline, he seemed to indicate that it was due to interleague series that would just be impossible to reschedule — as if the baseball schedule is a thing, out there, that is immutable rather than a item that is quite literally subject to the very negotiating process that has, to date, failed.

This wasn’t really a press conference full of answers, it was more an exercise in appearing transparent, even as we all know it was opaque.

Cutting off the MLBPA press conference

There were a lot more answers in the MLBPA press conference, or at least, the parts of it that were aired on cable TV. You see, one of the most interesting parts of the MLBPA press conference is that MLB Network and ESPN both cut away from it while it was still going.

The editorial decision to air Rob Manfred’s press conference in full while cutting away from the MLBPA’s similar event is indefensible from a news standpoint. It’s yet one more piece of evidence indicting the credibility of any sports media coverage that has extensive ties to the league.

Luckily, streamed the MLBPA press conference in its entirety. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark opened by explaining that:

The reason we’re not playing is simple. A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. Let me repeat that — a lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. In a $10 billion industry the owners have made a conscious decision to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have — the players. But the group won’t be intimidated. I’ve seen more unity in the last few years than at any time in our recent history. Our guys care deeply about the game, care deeply about the fans, and care deeply about our player fraternity. And they are focused and on improving the right and benefits for today’s generation of players and for the generations to come. Needless to say we remain committed to the bargaining process and to getting back on the field as soon as possible.

However, beyond network decisions there is just a striking difference in the tone and gravity with which Rob Manfred and Tony Clark approached their introductory remarks. Where Manfred opened with empty laughing, Clark opened with a short, sincere commentary about the players’ position and goals. Where Manfred was evasive, all four of the MLBPA representatives (Clark was joined on stage by the union’s Senior Director of Collective Bargaining and Legal Bruce Meyer and player reps Max Scherzer and Andrew Miller) were solemn.

Scherzer and Miller both spoke eloquently about the core issues to the union. They explained how the leagues’ move towards more players being younger, and therefore ineligible for the windfalls that accompany free agency, impacted young players. They spoke about how the current structure doesn’t reward competing, which hurts the game. They were explicit that they weren’t doing this for themselves, but for the future of the game. That was a sentiment shared by former Cub Anthony Rizzo:

Unlike MLB Network and ESPN, I’ve linked to the entirety of both press conferences below so that you can judge all of this for yourselves, although I should note that the SNY feed starts after Manfred’s laughter:

So here we are, at a crossroads. MLB says they are now “forced” to cut games and that the players will not be compensated for them. The MLBPA, correctly, points out that just added to the list of bargaining items the two sides disagree on.

In case you’re wondering how long this could go on, you’re in luck. At one point in the middle of the MLBPA press conference a question went to both Scherzer and Miller: “Have there been discussions about how long guys were prepared to...”

Andrew Miller answered simply: “We’re prepared.”