Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is in damage-control mode after he said Wednesday that the league was never going to play more than 60 games. Some interpreted that as Manfred admitting the league’s negotiations with the union were not in good faith. Manfred attempted to clarify those comments Thursday.
Manfred said the coronavirus was going to limit the season even if the league and the players came to an agreement sooner, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
“My point was that no matter what happened with the union, the way things unfolded with the second spike,’’ Manfred told USA TODAY Sports, “we would have ended up with only time for 60 games, anyway. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that the course of the virus was going to dictate how many games we could play.’’
The two sides never could come to an agreement, with Manfred exercising his rights under the March 26 agreements, scheduling a 60-game season.
“As it turned out, the reality was there was only time to play 60 games,’’ Manfred said. “If we had started an 82-game season [beginning July 1], we would have had people in Arizona and Florida the time the second spike hit.’’
Manfred’s point about the virus wiping out the season is correct. It’s possible that an 82-game season would have been shortened as a result of coronavirus. It’s possible the current 60-game proposal doesn’t go off as planned due to the virus.
That excuse, however, doesn’t explain why the league and its owners were so opposed to lengthier schedules. The league’s first proposal was for 82 games, but included revenue sharing and a sliding salary scale that the players opposed. From there, any time the league sent over a proposal, the amount of games in it dropped. The players repeatedly sent over offers for longer seasons, which owners did not want to accept. Ultimately, the players told Manfred to implement the season. He decided on 60 games.
Even if Manfred’s point about the virus cutting the season short is true, the optics are bad. If the league knew the season was going to be 60 games from the start, why send other offers? It makes it look as though the owners weren’t concerned with the virus in their initial proposals — which were longer than 60 games — because they were getting more concessions from the players.
If the league truly believed 60 games was the limit for games, it loses nothing by agreeing to a longer season. Had the league and its players agreed to an 82-game season that was cut short by the virus, at least fans would know both sides tried to pull off as many games as possible. By implementing the 60-game season the owner’s wanted, Manfred opens up the league and its owners to more criticism if the season is cut short. The blame falls on them for wanting a shorter season, and for spending weeks potentially negotiating in bad faith.
Manfred’s argument about a second spike in Arizona and Florida rings hollow, as both states are seeing a significant surge in coronavirus cases right now. If the league truly planned to cancel games if coronavirus spiked in those states, there’s an argument they should do that right now. Instead, the league is content to let teams practice in Arizona and Florida, and plans to allow games to take place in those states in just a few weeks.
Ultimately, the league and its owners want to make as much money as possible. The owners determined it was more beneficial for them to hold a 60-game season for that reason. It also explains why — after months of using the no-fans argument as a negotiating ploy — owners are now trying to figure out how to host fans during the regular season. When it was beneficial to argue fans wouldn’t attend games, the owners cried poor in an attempt to get a better deal. Once the season was implemented, they changed course to try and maximize their profits.
Throughout all of this, Manfred hasn’t proved to be an effective messenger. Between his constant clarifications, contradictory statements and propensity for putting his foot in his mouth, Manfred only seems to throw gasoline on the fire every time he opens his mouth.
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