MLB owners, players force 2020 season upon us not by agreement, but by disagreement: Paul Hoynes –


CLEVELAND, Ohio — It ended badly, no surprise there. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

That kind of bad would have wiped out the entire 2020 season. Who knows, it could still happen because the coronavirus certainly hasn’t been tamed.

MLB owners and players, after nearly three months of casting baseball in the worst light possible, stepped out of the shadows and forced a season to happen. They didn’t do it by agreement, but by disagreement. Only in baseball could that happen.

The MLB Players Association, by rejecting the owners’ latest 60-game proposal, twisted Commissioner Rob Manfred’s arm to proceed with a 2020 season on his terms. He did not use his unilateral power to implement the season allowed by the two sides’ March agreement, but he did use his power to set a schedule and pay players their full prorated salary.

There are two stipulations to a potential season. The owners asked the union if the players can report to spring training by July 1 and if the union will agree to the health and safety protocols put forth by MLB early in the negotiations. Manfred asked for an answer to both requests by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Here’s my guess on the outcome of those two requests — most of the players will report to their big-league ballparks by Wednesday. The Indians already have several players working out at Progressive Field in preparation for Spring Training II. As for the health and safety protocols, the union knows if it drags its feet on reaching an agreement, it will cost its players games and money.

This is a potential deal lined with broken glass and razor blades for both sides. The players rejected the owners’ proposal — loaded with perks that would have given this peculiar season a personality — to force Manfred to mandate a season. The mandate would have opened the door for the union to file a grievance, saying the owners didn’t try to play as many games as possible under the terms of their March 26 agreement.

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Manfred and the owners, perhaps in preparation for that grievance, are expected to go with a 60-game schedule to show that they indeed tried to play as many games as possible. Manfred could have taken the players to the mat and gone with a 48- to 50-game season. That would have cut their pay while still giving them 100% percent of their prorated salaries.

Wouldn’t you like to just bang the heads of these two entities together? Not physically, but figuratively?

Why couldn’t they just reach a deal that didn’t expose them to three months of ridicule? The pandemic has killed over 120,000 people in this country. Unemployment is high and the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women at the hands of police have shaken the country. Baseball ignored it all and continued its petty bickering over prorated pay and length of season.

When Manfred and the owners did vote on Monday to proceed with the season, they blew the save and backed into the win. They were the closer who blows a two-run lead in the ninth, only to have his teammates bail him out with five runs in the bottom of the frame. He gets credit with the win, but all anyone can talk about is his blown save.

Not sure what the players accomplished here. Unless some kind of 12th hour deal is reached Tuesday, they turned their back on a $25 million postseason bonus pool, expanded playoffs (10 to 16 teams) for 2020 and 2021, a universal DH in 2021 and $33 million in forgiven salaries out of the $170 million the owners floated the players in March to get them through the first two months of the season. The owners said the total package was worth 104% of each player’s prorated salary.

What the players did do was hold firm. Generations of players have worked their way through the game in peace since the 1994 strike caused the cancellation of the World Series. No one had to ask how they would react if they were pressured because there was no reason. Tony Clark, executive director of the players association, and its members stood united. But was this the fight they needed to fight?

The pressure didn’t come from the owners, although they have made a system that favored the players for so long work against those same players. It came from a virus that no one could have seen coming. They were put in a terrible position, right along with the owners, and they responded in the worst way possible. If you’re on a sinking ship, you worry about getting as many people into the life boats as possible. You don’t worry about the cost of the ship going down.

It’s hard to imagine Monday’s events bringing peace to either side or the game’s fans. There’s just too many gremlins, masked and unmasked, waiting around the corner. How many players will opt out of the season for medical reasons? How many will opt out in protest? How many will test positive during Spring Training II and the season?

How badly will the free agent markets in 2020 and 2021 crater? How many owners won’t participate because of the losses they incurred this season? Then there’s the matter of negotiating the next basic agreement after the 2021 season. What happened over the last three months was a skirmish compared to what awaits both sides in a little more than a year.

Baseball could have offered a troubled nation a diversion, a sense of normalcy. Instead baseball just gave the country another reason to look away.

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