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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred no longer confident there will be a 2020 season

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Players demand season. Commissioner says no.

2020 Major League Baseball Draft
The commissioner turning his back on the sport
Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Throughout the bitter labor negotiations between MLB and its players the last couple months, the one underlying guarantee has been that there would definitely be a 2020 season in some form. It might only be 48 games, but the worst-case scenario at least included baseball being played. That’s no longer the case.

On Monday, in an interview on ESPN, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he is no longer confident that a season will be played this summer, due to the the threat of legal action by the players. This comes five days after Manfred said there would “100%,” “unequivocally” be baseball in 2020. Among his latest comments on ESPN:

Well I know the owners are 100% committed to getting baseball back on the field. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100% certain that’s going to happen. I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players’ full prorated salary, that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26.

Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union’s top lawyer was out telling reporters, players, and eventually getting back to owners, that as soon as we issued a schedule as they requested, they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars. Obviously, that sort of bad-faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances.

The interview between Manfred and ESPN host Mike Greenberg was conducted earlier on Monday and will be part of the SportsCenter Special: The Return of Sports airing at 6 p.m. PT tonight.

Regarding the grievance, MLB insider Jim Bowden offers the following take: “MLB couldn’t implement a 48-52 game schedule at this time in the calendar without losing a grievance to the players since a schedule between 64-72 games can easily be fit in between now and Sept. 27th. Therefore, another delay tactic until the calendar is more friendly.”

On Saturday, MLB Players Association leader Tony Clark issued a statement breaking off negotiations and demanding the league impose a season of whatever length it wanted with full prorated salaries. Manfred cited that lack of continued dialogue as a factor in his loss of confidence.

This is a dramatic turnaround from Manfred, who last Wednesday told ESPN “unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year.” He explicitly put a 100% likelihood on the chance of a season happening. Five days later, he’s singing a different tune. In a response statement on Monday, Clark noted that reversal, saying Manfred “[went] back on his word” and accusing him of bad-faith negotiating.

Reactions

“It’s just a disaster for our game,” Manfred said of the optics of the toxic public labor dispute, presumably looking at his own reflection in the camera lens.

Normally I find myself in a centrist position on these labor battles, finding fault on both sides, but this latest development only further shows that the owners/league are the primary problem in this one. For now, I’ll let Twitter do the talking, with some excellent takes from prominent voices.

First up is J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, with a rundown of the situation:

To unpack this a little more. The two sides came to an agreement in March. The MLBPA believes if Manfred institutes a 50-54-game schedule it (the MLBPA) will win a grievance because they believe it would fail to live up to the terms of the March agreement [which said: “Best efforts to play as many games as possible.”].

If the MLBPA’s claim/grievance is baseless and absurd, then the MLB’s risk is simply some legal fees and time. If MLB’s concern is the MLBPA may win the grievance and therefore imposing a 50/54-game season would put MLB owners at significant financial risk, it is because there is a concern on Manfred/owner’s part that MLB may not be meeting the March agreement’s terms.

Or, to summarize:

I play this down the middle. I report on this, so I keep my opinions out of this. This is I believe a reasonable, unbiased explanation of the current impasse.

Players: Let’s play, tells us when and where to show up.
Owners: No 2020 season unless you waive your legal rights.

Another similar take:

Or, to put it more bluntly:

Another major writer making a clear statement:

And another:

The real shame is the opportunity being missed, for what could have been such a great thing for both the sport and the country.

A few players weigh in (click for Bauer’s full eight-tweet thread):

A’s reliever Jake Diekman, who has spoken up a few times throughout this process:

Truly the darkest timeline:

There’s no end in sight and things are somehow getting worse. Stay tuned to see where this drama goes next.