Major League Baseball and the MLBPA both want to get the season started as quickly and safely as possible, but there may be one factor that stands in the way; money.
Major League Baseball is a lucrative business built around a fan experience, unlike any other sport. It’s ingrained in the youth from the moment they can physically pick up a bat and swing at a tee. It’s carried throughout our school years through big league dreams of playing on the great fields of our heroes. It’s the constant that has propelled this country through wars, economic downturns, and centuries of crises.
That is why Major League Baseball is doing everything they can to get the game back underway in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. America (and Canada) needs that beacon of hope and a reminder that the world can return to normal again. Even if the actual execution is a bit different in 2020, it will still represent a step in the right direction as we try to pull ourselves out of what has become a neverending unknown.
So it was with excitement that news broke over the weekend of a proposed format for a shortened season was likely to be submitted to the players soon, as detailed by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Here is a quick summary of what that plan would entail:
- An early July start-date, with a return to Spring Training in mid-June.
- A 78-82 game regular season.
- A 14-team playoff format, with seven teams from each league. The best record in each league would get the only bye.
- Games would be limited to just those in geographic regions, although there is no talk of realignment.
- Home parks would be utilized for all activities (including Spring Training), albeit without fans.
- A Universal DH will be utilized.
- Rosters will be expanded as needed to allow for player safety.
But make no mistake about it, baseball is and always will be a business. And at the end of the day, it may be the business side of things that get in the way.
To get an aggressive plan like this pushed through, the league will need the approval of the MLBPA, giving the players a voice in ensuring that their needs are met from a health and safety standpoint. However, the biggest thing that will need approval will be the salary side of things.
Major League Baseball and the owners are expected to include a provision in this deal asking for the players to allow for a salary reduction due to the loss of income from the lack of fan attendance, which makes up nearly half of all revenues that the game generates. From tickets to concessions, that is a big chunk of change that team owners won’t be able to recuperate in the current atmosphere.
From the players’ perspective, they have already agreed to concessions, including reducing the guaranteed salaries that the players collected during the two months of the season that has already been lost. Pitcher Andrew Miller of the St. Louis Cardinals, who is one of the top union reps among players, indicated to ESPN this weekend that players being asked to take another cut may be a tough pill to swallow. Former Angels catcher Chris Iannetta noted that the players are the ones who will be potentially exposed not only to amplified testing, but also to potential illness in order to get the game back on the field.
"“We should get fairly compensated for taking that risk for the betterment of the game and the betterment of the owners who stand to make a huge profit off the game.”"
It would seem almost ridiculous that after two-plus months of delays due to the virus shutdown and countless forms of speculation released, that we are coming to the finish line and both sides would wait until the last moment to finalize something that would pump the brakes on the whole deal. Delaying further or canceling the entire season, not because of the pandemic, because the two sides couldn’t agree about money issues would represent a vast dent in public perception during a time when it stands to gain so much.
There is simply too much on the table for the threat of money to shut it all down. Major League Baseball and the players want to see the game back on the field. Both sides need to figure out a way to make it happen and quickly.
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The fans need the game return and don’t deserve to be a casualty between two sides jockeying to see which gets to be the bigger millionaire.