Jun 16, 2020 - Sports

Inside the MLB's ugly labor fight

Illustration of a torn baseball with money inside of it.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For months, MLB and its players' union have engaged in a frustrating back-and-forth over baseball's return. Negotiations reached a boiling point this week, and now the 2020 season — and perhaps even future seasons — are in serious jeopardy.

Why it matters: The talks between the two sides were never great, but they at least once had a tinge of optimism. Now, a 50-game season — once considered a worst-case scenario — appears to be the only hope for baseball this year.

The latest:

  • June 10: Commissioner Rob Manfred tells ESPN's Karl Ravech that he's "100%" sure there will be a season.
  • June 13: The MLBPA cuts off talks and requests that MLB tell them when and where to show up, citing an agreed upon stipulation that the league would set a schedule (believed to be ~50 games) should the two sides fail to agree on one.
  • June 15 (last night): Manfred reverses course, saying he's no longer confident that there will be a season due to players' decision to end negotiations. The MLBPA responds, saying "players are disgusted" by Manfred's backtracking.

Furthermore, the bad blood formed during this process will have a profound impact on negotiations when the CBA expires after the 2021 season, and could result in even more missed games due to a lockout or player strike.

The backdrop: The crux of this debate centers on the players and owners both refusing to budge, making the last 10 weeks less about negotiations and more about two sides yelling into the void.

  • What the players want: Full pro rata, meaning fully prorated salaries for however many games they play (i.e. $1 million salary would be $500,000 if the season were cut exactly in half).
  • What the owners want: To minimize the collective losses incurred by playing a season without fans, which they can't accomplish if players earn full pro rata. (Owners claim a fanless season could result in $4 billion in losses, but that number is impossible to confirm because they refuse to open their books.)

What we're hearing: The owners want to play roughly 50 games. But if they implemented that now, the MLBPA would file a bad faith grievance against them for not trying to play as many games as possible, since they can still easily fit in 70+ games before the Sept. 27 regular-season end date.

  • So, the owners are stalling. The closer they get to Sept. 27, the fewer games they can play — bringing them closer to their goal of 50 games and eliminating the players' legal case against them.
  • Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer agrees with this theory and called out Manfred directly on Twitter: "No one believes your bluff, bud."

The bottom line: Over the last six months, two MLB teams were punished for cheating, the league came under fire for its plan to decimate the minor leagues, and now, "the entity with the sole power to organize top-tier professional baseball in North America seems to have no particular interest in fulfilling that purpose," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann.

  • Regardless of what happens next, MLB has angered its players, alienated its existing fans, hurt its chances of attracting new fans and incurred incalculable long-term damage to its already deteriorating image. Good job, guys.
  • Last night, the AP reported that several MLB players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. You can draw your own conclusions, but the timing would seem to indicate that MLB leaked that information to benefit their own agenda.
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