It has been a remarkable show, up until today, of two sides unclear on the concept of “compromise,” or its nephew and niece, “give and take” and “middle ground”. Then suddenly, in a magical meeting between Rob Manfred and Tony Clark came the first framework that looked like each side comprehended what it looks like to seek common ground.
Granted it must have been hard for Manfred and Clark to speak through their masks, what with all the hot air they’ve been spewing, but by mid-day you had a purported framework where the owners increased the number of games to 60 and agreed to pay 100% of the pro-rated salaries, while the players opened up revenue stream opportunities by way of an expanded 16-team post-season and far less than the 89 games they were most recently suggesting.
But wait a minute...we’re not there yet. The union, despite getting the concession of full (pro-rated) pay and more games than the 50-54 being threatened, are holding out for more “a modest increase” from 60 in the number of games.
Rarely are negotiations solved by one side simply winning a concession while the other side hangs its head. The solution isn’t likely to be “Everything we both agreed, except the number of games is higher.”
Com. Pro. Mize. Ya can’t spell “pro” without it! So here is where my mind goes, in terms of getting the ball past the proverbial one-yard line and into the just-as-proverbial end zone.
What if both sides agreed to a season of 72 games in which the players were paid for 66? It amounts to what the owners have already offered, plus “play 12, paid for 6”.
Now the MLBPA is loathe to accept any proposal that veers from 100% pro-rated pay because they are worried about the precedent it sets. But framing is everything, and the 2020 backdrop offers the chance to couch any agreement in COVIDian terms. The deal would be framed as the players getting paid for 66 games, and donating 6 to a crucial cause: fan entertainment during the pandemic. MLBPA should not be expected to consider any non-100% deals until the next pandemic, which history suggests is not due to arrive until around 2119.
Why is this a win-win?
It’s a win for the players because instead of earning 37% of their salary (60/162), they earn 41% of their salary (66/162). Plus they earn the goodwill of the general public/fans, which neither side has done so far.
It’s a win for the owners because they get 12 games at “half price,” and if fans are allowed in the stands at any point they might have 12 more games to add significant revenue. Plus they also earn goodwill that it’s an understatement to suggest they have lost with the public to date.
A 72-game season (4 home and 4 away against each of the 9 opponents in your “league”) is just much better from a baseball point of view, getting close to the “half a season” that feels more legitimate. And there is still time for 72 games plus an expanded post-season if an agreement is reached in the next couple days.
So you are looking at a compromise that is not only good for players and owners, but also — what a concept to factor this in — good for baseball, good for the fans. It requires both sides to yield on points that were “non negotiables” before: in the owners’ case, paying for as many as 66 games and in the players’ case settling for less than 100% pro-rated pay.
If it leaves both sides a little unhappy then it’s probably a good solution. If it has good optics to fans, it might save a sport that has been inching towards the edge of a precipice each day this week.
It’s time to actually compromise until it hurts. And play ball.