Rob Manfred’s disgraceful about-face Monday in which he threatened cancellation of the 2020 MLB season is a disheartening yet seemingly inevitable culmination of events. Despite his assurance only one week ago around the draft that “unequivocally, we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” he has now proven what a shameful and untrustworthy group he and the owners are.
This was always in the cards. I just never thought the owners would be foolish enough to go this far. But here we are. Instead of sincere negotiations with the union, they have decided to enter their endgame and impose the nuclear option. Indeed, as many as eight owners are happy to jettison the season.
Our country is facing a period of tremendous turmoil, the likes of which many of the younger generation have not experienced. Thousands of people are still becoming infected by the coronavirus while millions have lost their livelihoods. At the same time, the bigotry that still exists in our society is on full naked display. Structural racism is manifesting itself in the form of police brutality against Black people. Against all this, MLB is managing to steal a few headlines with the owners’ demonstration of stubbornness, cowardice, and greed.
MLB had a chance to set an example. They had a chance to display unity, but instead their actions reinforce divisions in society. The ongoing dispute reflects the divides that run through our nation, the unwillingness of the hegemonic party to relinquish any of the power they exert, out of some twisted perception that doing so could disadvantage them.
The league also had a real chance to reinvent its image and rejuvenate its fanbase by being the first sport to return to play. The league’s public standing already stood in disrepair from the fallout of the Astros and Red Sox cheating scandals, and the obfuscation surrounding juiced baseballs. All of that would have disappeared had the owners honored their March agreement. But instead they opted to pour gasoline on the fire.
They have decided to carry out an ongoing mudslinging campaign against the players. They have leaked dishonest information to try to control the narrative. And they have displayed baldfaced deceit when it comes to the financial landscape they paint.
The owners continuously withhold financial information including the actual amount of revenue lost already to the COVID-19-induced delay as well as the nearly $1 billion postseason television deal signed with Turner Broadcasting. They repeatedly cite a disingenuous linkage of their financial situation to the loss of revenue, when in fact franchise value appreciation is the largest contributor to the owner’s baseball-derived wealth. The owners are not assuming any risk (relatively speaking) should they agree to more games or full pro-rated pay for their players.
On the other hand, the players shoulder all the risk by accepting to essentially play games for free. Every year a player ages, his value depreciates, and adding further risk on top of that by playing this season is unfeasible under the current compensation offers from owners. Yet it is the players who have repeatedly attempted to return to the bargaining table, compromising with each successive offer, all falling on deaf ears.
The behavior on display is truly deplorable. MLB faces an aging demographic and falling attendance numbers. Games are taking longer than ever while ticket prices continue to soar. The NBA and NHL already have initial plans in place to resume their seasons, and are poised to monopolize on a sports-starved audience. What will be left of these viewers if MLB doesn’t come back until next year? Why are the owners willing to precipitate this existential threat all over not paying the players? How many current and prospective fans must they alienate just to not be the one to say uncle?
The suspension of the season during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic was a noble decision. And the threat of a second wave is becoming a very real possibility. If the owners and players decided to scrap the season in the name of player and public safety, I would say fine, good on them. But that’s not what threatens to bulldoze the MLB season. This is about greed of the highest degree.
The owners’ avarice knows no bounds. This most recent announcement signals to me that they would rather watch the season burn than help put out the fire that they, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, started. If they’re not careful, those flames could reach a blaze that threatens the future of the league.