Last week we provided an overview of the financial issues facing Major League Baseball (MLB), with the suggestion the sides were far apart. One week later the sides are farther apart, and national sports commentators are divided on what they think is going to happen. On a recent podcast, Bill Simmons said the odds are 8-1 against there being baseball played in 2020. Taking an opposite tack, USA Today Columnist Bob Nightengale said, “There’s no deadline in these negotiations. So sit back, relax, and try not to be caught up in the war of words. We are going to have a baseball season. Major League Baseball has no choice. The sides will come up with a compromise.”
I’ll go Old School and remind everyone of the immortal words of George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And here is the proof of that statement as it relates to the MLB and past Player vs. Owner stalemates. April 1-13, 1972, there was a MLB Players strike; February 1973, there was a MLB Lockout; March 1976, there was a 17-day lockout; March 1980, there was an eight-day Player strike; June 12-July 31, 1981, there was a Players strike; 1990 there was a 32-day MLB lockout; and August 12 1994 to April 2, 1995, there was a Players strike, which resulted in no MLB Post-season or World Series being played.
Last week we cited an Associated Press report that with an 82-game schedule, played in empty ballparks, with the Players receiving half their salaries, the Chicago Cubs potentially would lose $199 million, the Yankees would lose $312 million, the Dodgers $232 million, and the New York Mets $214 million. With that concept in mind, the MLB proposed an 82-game schedule with a dramatically reduced salary level, with the league’s highest paid players taking a major financial hit. As an example, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, who is generally acclaimed to be the game’s best player, was set to earn $37.67 million in 2020. Prorated for half the season that salary is reduced to $19.06 million. The Owners proposal would have dropped his base salary to $5.749 million.
It would be fair to say the Players were having none of that. Again according to the Associated Press, the Players counter-proposal included a 114-game regular season that would see the World Series conclude after Thanksgiving; pro-rated player salaries would total approximately $2.8 billion; each player would receive 70 percent of his salary under this plan; players would be advanced $100 million more in salary during Spring Training 2.0.; and Players who meet qualifications for high risk or who reside with a person who qualifies as high risk, would receive their salary and credit toward Major League service time.
Obviously one key to solving this financial quagmire is how soon or even if fans will be allowed to attend games in person. That is anybody’s guess and could vary from team to team.
Monday as this was being written, the Owner’s latest counter-proposal was rumored to be between 50 and 60 regular season games, thereby dramatically reducing player salaries. In a very real sense, the Owners are negotiating to keep their losses from really getting out of control. There was another rumor circulating that there was a subset of Owners who wanted to cancel the season in its entirety.
Three elements which are certain include that the sides really don’t trust each other; their history of labor discord looms large in the background; and a healthy dose of reality needs to be taken by both Owners and Players.