By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Throughout much of this completely unnecessary saga surrounding Major League Baseball, nobody looked particularly great. Yet through it all, the players were a much more sympathetic group than the owners, a group of billionaires who seemed to be wholly dedicated to not losing a single dollar and also seemed OK with the league not even trying to play baseball this season. There may not have been a “good guy,” but there was certainly a “bad guy” in the form of ownership and the commissioner.
But, well, welcome to the “bad guy” club, baseball players. You’re now as bad as anyone.
The players joined this ignominious group by rejecting the owners’ proposal for a 60-game season with expanded playoffs and other bells and whistles. The biggest reason the players rejected the proposal was to maintain their ability to file a grievance against the owners. The second biggest reason seems to be simply that it came from the owners.
When the 60-game proposal was somewhat mutually agreed upon between Rob Manfred and Tony Clark last week, it was seen as a positive step. One report indicated that a deal was imminent. Alas, the players wanted to play 10 more games (and thus, get paid 6 percent more of their original salaries), so they countered with a 70-game proposal. This counter-offer ruined the days of so many billionaires, who could surely afford to pay players for 60 games but absolutely just could not scrounge up the change in the couch cushions to pay for 70.
So the owners didn’t counter. And the players rejected the 60-game offer.
For all that trouble, it looks like they’ll now be playing … a 60-game season. Without any of the benefits offered by MLB.
And now we can say with complete confidence that both sides of this mess have been wholly in the wrong. Neither the owners nor the players have even once considered that they’re trying to make the best of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, instead reverting to old methods of distrust, spite, and good old-fashioned bad faith negotiating.
It’s been a complete embarrassment.
And of course, if a capable, competent, and confidence-inspiring commissioner were at the helm for this difficult moment in baseball history, it all could have been salvaged.
Instead, baseball had Rob Manfred.
He … has not risen to the moment. To say the least.
Neither has Tony Clark, the union head who will almost assuredly need to be replaced before the end of 2021, when a new CBA will need to be negotiated. Clark has never once through this process provided any sort of reason to believe he can get the players what they want, and his only real skill that’s shown through throughout this debacle has been his ability to release statements about how disappointed he is.
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
The greatest evidence of Clark’s failure can be seen in Trevor Bauer’s reaction to Monday evening’s vote. Bauer has been an unabashed critic of Manfred throughout the ordeal, yet his ire turned toward his own union after the rejection:
So we gave up shares of playoff money, eliminating the qualifying offer for 2021, paycheck advance forgiveness, Covid 19 protections, and protection for non guaranteed arb contracts for next year in order to hold on to our right to file a grievance…🤔🤔
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 23, 2020
It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid 19 already presented a lose lose lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible. 🤦🏻♂️
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 22, 2020
If there’s going to be a fight the time for that fight is after the ‘21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. 5 years of potential change. We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. WTF kind of sense does that make? 🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 22, 2020
Bauer’s views may not be representative of all MLB players, but his points are irrefutable. He can take the big-picture view and see that even if the union does eventually win a grievance to recoup some money for players, the short-term and long-term damage to the sport likely outweighs that meager monetary gain.
And it was Clark’s statement on June 13 that really rings extra hollow now. It was on that date when Clark opened his message by saying, “Players want to play. It’s who we are and what we do.” He concluded his message by saying, “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”
That became a rallying cry of sorts for the players. Tell us when and where. We want to play. The owners won’t let us.
They had a point, too.
And then 33 out of 38 of them voted to reject the owners’ proposal.
So much for that.
So now, baseball will come back … probably. The league still has to come up with a schedule. And the players have to approve the league’s proposed health and safety protocols. Considering their negotiations have been about as fruitful as trying to grow a flower from a rock, an easy agreement in that complicated territory is far from a guarantee.
And all of it makes you wonder what this will mean for the future of the game. It may be slightly hyperbolic to say the future of the game is at stake and that the league will be grappling with financial ruin far earlier than even “Brockmire” predicted. But … it also might not be hyperbolic at all.
Instead of capitalizing on an unfortunate moment in American history by quickly organizing and getting on TVs from coast to coast all day every day … the powers that be in MLB fought and bickered because they seem to hate each other. As a result, maybe baseball will begin in late July. When basketball and hockey are set to return. And when NFL training camps are set to open up.
Baseball will be back. But will anyone care? And the lost opportunity to attract a new generation of young fans — kids who will be home all summer and could have been enraptured by taking in day-night doubleheaders with their parents and fallen in love with the sport — can never be made up. Not only is that opportunity now long gone, but the league has certainly lost a portion of its adult fans, people who have been able to recognize this unique moment in history while also seeing MLB fail to act accordingly.
All of this embarrassing squabbling on a public stage essentially amounted to the players and the owners trying their best to make the other side look bad. They both succeeded, causing irreparable harm to their sport and their league in the process.