Rob Manfred Backtracks As MLB and MLBPA Continue Spat

The baseball season seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred at a press conference.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

As other professional American sports leagues deal with concerns about COVID-19, promoting societal change and allowing player protests, Major League Baseball and its players continue to fight about money as the U.S. unemployment rate continues to rise.

Less than a week after saying he was “100 percent” sure there would be baseball in 2020, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred backtracked from that stance and said he was “not confident” there would be a season during an appearance on ESPN.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it,” Manfred said. “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.”

Manfred’s comments come days after MLBPA head Tony Clark declared additional talks with the league futile, effectively ending good-faith negotiations with the union about health and safety protocols and potential salary payments to players by ownership.

They also come in the wake of several MLB players and team staff testing positive for COVID-19, which further complicates matters.

“The proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country over the last week, and the fact that we already know of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive, has increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks,” MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to the MLBPA.

Due to concerns about the coronavirus, Manfred and MLB ownership do not want to impose a shortened season — which they have the right to do — unless the MLBPA agrees to waive its right to sue during the offseason, a non-starter for the union.

“Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told players and fans that there would ’100 percent’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season,” Clark said in response to the commissioner’s comments.

At the root of all the back-and-forth is the issue of whether players are entitled to their full pro-rated salaries if games are played without fans in the stands.

Players have always held they deserve their total pro-rated salaries, fans or not, while owners have held they need to impose further pay cuts to make up for the loss of revenue from the lack of ticket sales. Should the two sides reach an agreement on that issue, it seems likely everything else would be resolved in short order.

But an amicable agreement appears unlikely to happen as MLB and the MLBPA have been squabbling about that issue since mid-March and it is now mid-June.

Much has changed in the world over those three months, but the respective stances of the MLB and the MLBPA about paying pro-rated salaries have not.

Unless they do, the Boys of Summer seemed destined to wait to play until 2021.

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