We have all been here before. Sadly, we know that this will end somehow and somewhere, but we will have to trudge our way through well-traveled scorched earth to get there. This coma-inducing scenario is a real-life version of the movie, Groundhog Day, engendered by COVID-19.
That less-than-lovely introduction relates to the potential for a truncated 2020 season in MLB. The fact that any possible season in MLB would have to be limited to 80-90 games at the most is no one’s fault; the coronavirus outbreak is the sole author of that fact. As of now, it would appear that logistical issues might be tractable regarding an MLB “Opening Day” in early July producing an 82-game season. That is not ideal, but it could work – – except – – there are economic issues as there always are regarding MLB.
About 10 days ago, I wrote that MLB and the MLBPA have a history of shooting one another in the foot only to take a break in that behavior to shoot themselves in their feet too. Every last issue between those sides becomes a matter of pride and honor. The owners and the players’ union seem to be taking their cues from the partisans in Congress when it comes to finding compromises on issues that will actually produce positive change. In other words, they don’t even try…
Here is a rough timeline of how we got where we are:
- COVID-19 terminates Spring Training in medias res.
- Players and owners agree that 2020 salaries would be pre-rated relative to the fraction of the 162 normal games that are played. Hallelujah! An agreement…
- As it became apparent that some – most – of the games might need to be played in front of empty stadiums, the two sides diverged on that agreement. Owners want players to share in the agony of reduced revenues; players do not.
- Owners suggest a 50/50 revenue split with players. That is awfully close to a salary cap and the MLBPA is dead set against a salary cap under any pretense.
- Owners offer up a huge proposal that shaves salaries drastically for the highest paid players and not nearly so much for players at the low end of the pay scale. [Aside: This sounds a bit like a “tax the rich” proposal which I doubt the MLB owners would support in the political arena.]
- Players are up in arms – – and we have been here before.
The union went ballistic over the latest proposal calling it nothing more than “massive pay cuts”. Well, in large measure, they are right. And it is also right that the MLB owners are looking at “massive revenue cuts”.
The owners posit that they will lose – cumulatively – multiple billions of dollars without those salary reductions. Well, in large measure, they are right. And it is also right that as business owners they are not entitled to be guaranteed to make tons of money every single season.
Now, it is time for the MLBPA to make its proposal. If their position is nothing more than the pro-rated salaries agreed to a couple months ago, then there could well be a completely missed MLB season for 2020 and that is doubly bad. Lost in the back-and-forth rhetoric here and the coverage based on calculated leaks on both sides is a sobering reality even beyond COVID-19:
- The CBA between the owners and the union expires at the end of the 2021 season.
If the inability to compromise on economic and health related issues causes the 2020 season to disappear, the soon-to-commence next round of CBA bargaining will surely begin with a dark cloud overhead. Want to make that an even more dire set of circumstances? Suppose there is a “second wave” of COVID-19 next Spring that will wipe out some or part of the 2021 season and force some games to be played in empty stadiums…
Switching gears … The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will begin play on 27 June; if nothing changes in other sports, it will be the first professional team sport to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown(s). The league will stage a “Challenge Cup Tournament” in the Salt Lake City area with no fans in the stands. The tournament will involve 9 teams and 25 games, and every game will be telecast on CBS Sports Network. The tournament champion will be crowned on 25 July.
If MLB does not get its act together and there is no baseball in July, this could be a big plus for the NWSL. There seems to be a much better labor/management situation in the NWSL; the two sides appear to have agreed on a detailed and comprehensive plan to test players before every match and all during the time they are housed in and “NWSL Village” in Utah. Here is a public statement from the NWSLPA – the union representing the players there:
“The NWSLPA, working closely aside NWSL, is excited to provide players the opportunity to return to sport, while also securing compensation and other necessities to make sure players’ concerns, feedback and safety are at the forefront of all conversations.”
Do not hold your breath until you hear that kind of statement coming from the MLBPA or the MLB owners!
One prominent NWSL player – Alex Morgan – will likely not be part of this return to action since she delivered a child on May 7. I would certainly call that an “excused absence”. Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding that birth:
“U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan’s first child, due in April, actually arrived in May.
“Why, of course — added time.”
Finally, since I mentioned the movie Groundhog Day obliquely above, here is an idea for Hollywood. Movie studios love to make sequels to successful movies; only rarely do the sequels live up to the standard set by the original successful work. So, here is my idea:
- Announce the release of Groundhog Day – 2.
- When people get to the theaters and are settled in for the opening, just show the original move over again.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………