Several years ago, okay a couple of decades ago, I was in New York City on a business trip. At the same time there was a major event at the United Nations Building, located at 42nd Street and First Avenue, which created absolute traffic gridlock in Manhattan. No vehicles could move in any direction. That would seem to be an apt metaphor for the current plight of Major League Baseball.
Summarizing last week’s exploits, the phrase coined by Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Executive Director Tony Clark, “Tell us when and where,” was trending on social media. The phrase seemingly reflected the Players willingness to resume their Spring Training and to start the season itself in mid-July.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (if he were a stock on the New York Stock Exchange you would want to sell him) flew to Phoenix to meet with Clark, in an attempt to get negotiations back on track. According to reports, the meeting lasted five hours. Manfred informed the media shortly after the conclusion of the meeting that a “Jointly developed framework” for an agreement between the parties had been established. Two days later, Clark characterized the negotiating session by saying, “It is unequivocally false to suggest that any tentative agreement or other agreement was reached in that meeting.” From the timing, it appeared Clark didn’t have the support of the MLBPA Executive Committee to agree to anything.
Over the years I have been involved in some fairly high level negotiations, as have many of you reading this. Never in my experience has there been such a complete and total disconnect between two parties allegedly trying to reach an agreement.
As of Monday, the two sides aren’t talking. There seems to be the feeling in the media that Manfred, through a previously signed agreement on March 26, 2020, can dictate the number of games to be played this season, which currently seems to be in the neighborhood of 50. In turn, the Players, who must approve expanding the number of Playoff teams from 10 to 16, are unlikely to do so. That would derail much-needed, additional post-season television revenue from going to the Owners.
From the sidelines, when the two sides were negotiating, the process was laughable. The number of games proposed for the 2020 regular season, or what remains of it, have been volleyed back and forth between a Player-proposed 114 games, to the 48-game schedule the Owners threw out as a negotiating ploy at one point. The percentages and actual amount of Player compensation has also varied wildly. The two sides are just throwing numbers at each other, hoping something will stick. The current financial forecast is the two sides are still $275 million apart.
In another development, MLB is also using the COVID-19 Pandemic as the mechanism to literally change the rules of the game, including enacting the Designated Hitter Rule in the National League, which has been utilized in the American League for 47 years; During all extra inning games, each half inning will being with a runner on second base; Games which have entered extra innings, could end in a tie; Much like Little League Baseball, players who have been taken out of games can re-enter later in the contest; And for the aesthetically inclined, paid advertising patches, in addition to the Nike logo already on the MLB uniforms, can be added to generate additional revenue.
Virtually none of the recent coverage of the negotiations have included player safety issues related to COVID-19, which have yet to be completely agreed to. The most serious part of the previous 609 words is the two sides aren’t talking, much less negotiating, and that needs to change in a hurry.