Sam Schneider | May 27th, 2020
In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Major League Baseball owners proposed a return-to-play plan that the players effectively scoffed at, putting fans’ hopes for a baseball return in question.
The NHL has nearly finished their agreement to start a 24-team playoff as soon as restrictions are lifted. The NBA might be closing in on an agreement to have playoffs at Disney World. The NFL is slowly opening facilities to players and coaches. And yet, America’s pastime (old school as ever) trudges through ideas as though they are wading in quicksand.
The Proposal From Owners
“We’re going to have an 82-game season!” the owners declared. “Designated Hitter for both leagues!” they shouted. Fans have been getting excited about baseball. All that remained was the Players Association’s approval and boom the boys of summer are back with or without fans. They just needed to iron out the players’ salary situation and everyone is good to go!
Spoiler alert: That part of the proposal was not a home run.
Potential salary cuts in MLB plan, sources tell @JesseRogersESPN and me:
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 26, 2020
The Player Response
As you can imagine, the players took this as an insult. The lower-tier guys do not lose much, but star players like Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole, Nolan Arenado, and others would have their pay slashed by tens of millions of dollars. These are enormous pay cuts and it begins a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse; the owners are banking on the backlash from fans saying that players make enough as it is and they should just get back on the field, while the players believe that if they resist the owners will eventually give in.
Almost immediately after the MLBPA laughed off the proposal, the Oakland Athletics were the first to notify their minor league players that at the end of May they would no longer be paying them their whopping $400 per week during the pandemic. It’s expected that other clubs will follow suit this week unless an agreement is reached quickly. Minor league players do not make a great salary anyway but cutting off any sort of relief is a despicable act considering the amount of money the owners have. Regardless, this is not a good look; if teams start cutting minor league finances it would lead one to believe that they do not expect operations to begin anytime soon, which immediately puts the idea of the season beginning in early July in jeopardy.
The owners are counting on the public (many of whom have been out of work since the pandemic began) to rail against the players for not taking a pay cut. At the same time, many players who worked hard to become high-paid superstars do not want to lose well over 50 percent of their salary and risk injury, let alone play for far less money on a team that has no chance of making the playoffs. Then there are the players that are in a contract year who not only take a pay cut but also would have very little bargaining power in the offseason in a day and age where it’s hard enough to be signed for what one perceives is their worth.
For their part, the players are counting on resistance as their ally; they are aware that they might be viewed poorly from a large contingent of fans but would rather those fans turn their ire on the “greedy owners” who are undercutting them.
Fans are the Real Losers
It is not a good look for either side. The real losers here are the fans who desperately need some semblance of normalcy as they navigate this pandemic. Sports have always served as a welcome distraction after tragedies in our country, and one is needed now. Major League Baseball needs to read the room: NHL and NBA owners and players are working together to figure out how to get back to some sense of normalcy. The NFL is opening facilities and currently is developing plans so that they will start the season on time. Even some college football conferences have begun opening their doors to players for workouts and practice.
That one of the oldest organized sports in America cannot get it together is not actually surprising if you look back over the years. We will likely see baseball this season but this is just another entry in the annals of disenfranchising fans, and whatever agreement is reached, it is going to make for extremely tense negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement at the end of 2021.
Here’s hoping that when we are launching fireworks on the 4th of July, America’s pastime will be on in the background.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images