By Joe Pantorno
That sound of glass shattering is the hopes and dreams of millions of baseball fans who just wanted their game back.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred ripped the hearts of his organization’s remaining supporters on Monday night when he told ESPN that he was “not confident” that there will be a 2020 season following the coronavirus pandemic.
He executed a 180 as quickly as ever, making those comments just one week after unequivocally ensuring that there will, without a doubt, be baseball played this season.
“I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue,” Manfred said Monday night. “It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”
And as he signed off the air and the public was left with harrowing flashbacks of the 1994 strike-shortened season, commissioner Manfred and MLB team owners — and to a far lesser extent, the players — left the fans to sit in their closed rooms and play the blame game.
Petulance at its finest.
Manfred held no punches, siding with the billionaire owners in negotiations that went nowhere for over a month while trying to play damage control for those he was representing.
It didn’t work.
The ball was in the owners’ court after the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) gave the owners an ultimatum after another failed proposal regarding financial compensation for a truncated 2020 season: Tell us when and where by Monday.
The owners didn’t.
Instead, Manfred went on national television claiming that “the owners are 100% committed to getting baseball back on the field,” before calling a looming grievance by the union if their demands weren’t met a move of “bad faith,” and accusing the players of standing in the way of a health-and-safety protocol agreement.
Meanwhile, players from Pete Alonso to Anthony Rizzo to Max Scherzer remain steadfast on their “when and where” approach, allowing MLBPA president Tony Clark to slam the league, saying the players “are disgusted.”
“Any implication that the Players Association has somehow delayed progress on health and safety protocols is completely false, as Rob has recently acknowledged the parties are ‘very, very close.’ This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from Players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”
Understandably, there is a faction of fans that see plenty of fault laying with the players. If they just opted to take an additional pay cut, this all could have been avoided.
At the same time, though, if the owners were truly “100% committed to getting baseball back on the field,” then just do what has to be done to get baseball back and stop making the fans suffer.
Give them their full prorated salaries for a 75-game season to ensure the league gets its monstrous payday from postseason TV deals, take a loss on the chin this year — you’ll make it up in the next two years (MLB made $10.7 billion in revenue last season), I promise — and portray an act of good faith before negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2021 begin.
Because the last thing we need is the owners to publically point the finger at the players’ union to a point where we lose baseball in 2020 and the tension carries over to the winter of 2021 and we see a lockout the following year.
Any other route taken by Manfred and the owners from now on that doesn’t result in an immediate resolution is just a sham — and they’re really not all that committed to getting baseball back.