With each day passing in 2020, Major League Baseball fell deeper and deeper into a hole that felt impossible to crawl out of without ramifications. While spectators attempted to bide their time by watching the drama of MLB unfold amid a global pandemic, players grew restless with how the league and owners were handling the entire situation. For some, it seemed as if the men who take the field night after night were becoming greedier as time ticked away. It was easy to see that the league was destroying its brand from the inside at a time when America needed them most.
Everything began to fall apart at the seams on March 12, 2020, when MLB announced the season would be postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.
A sliver of hope was given when Mark Feinsand with MLB.com stated the season would only be delayed by two weeks. Days continued to drag on, everyone locked away in quarantine and desperately pleading for a taste of normalcy. Therefore, it left even the most die-hard fans of the game ready to jump ship.
When did everything go wrong?
On March 26, 2020, Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed to pay full prorated salaries for a season of any length after discussions with the Players Association. The agreement stated the league should use “best efforts to play as many games as possible, while taking into account player safety and health, rescheduling needs, competitive considerations, stadium availability, and the economic feasibility of various alternatives.”
Throughout April, the league began discussing the possibility of a Grapefruit and Cactus league type season—think spring training with a competitive edge. The discussions found themselves gravitating toward a three-division realignment by the end of the month—American League teams would be combined with National League teams, sparking interest to see the Houston Astros teamed up against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As the bright sun beamed down in May, an eclipse covered any chance of the sun shining down on Major League Baseball. The owners approved a plan that would have an early July start, an 82-game season with 30-men rosters and a 20-player taxi squad, a 14-team postseason, and 50/50 revenue split among players and owners.
The owners were positive the MLBPA would be fine with the proposal and formally sent the plan to the union on May 20, 2020. The proposal included safety protocol, financial losses, a universal DH, and further details of the season. Financial disagreements began immediately and the plan was ultimately rejected by the union.
A game of cat and mouse begins
Six days after the initial proposal, the owners sent a new 82-game proposal. The proposal included a sliding scale of salaries with higher-paid players taking a larger percentage pay-cut. For example, Mike Trout, the highest-paid player in MLB, would make 20% of his total salary in 2020.
The goal was for Opening Day to still happen in early July. A 21-day spring training to kick off part Deux of the 2020 season. Despite a playoff bonus, the plan was once again rejected by the union.
Potential salary cuts in MLB plan, sources tell @JesseRogersESPN and me:
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 26, 2020
The drama began to unfold on social media, like a reality television program that left everyone unhappy as the end credits appeared on their screen. Fans began to label players greedy, looking at their salaries amid a Depression-era level economic crisis and a global pandemic. At first, many did not want to see how the owners were the true problem.
The age-old story: Millionaires versus Billionaires
On the final day of May, the MLBPA countered with a 114-game proposal with no salary cuts and a June 30, 2020 Opening Day. The plan would allow players who are uncomfortable with playing this season to opt-out. The request to expand playoffs for the next two years was also included.
On June 1, 2020, the league proposed a 50-60 game season and agreed to pay their players prorated salaries.
By June 3, 2020, the league had rejected the union’s proposal of 114 games with no salary cuts. Players were becoming fed up at this point, vocally announcing it on social media. Jack Flaherty and Andrew McCutchen were disgruntled by the actions of the league. McCutchen went as far as bringing back his alternate persona, Uncle Larry, and tweeted “lol” multiple times.
Five official proposals later—three from the league and two by the union—the spectacle became a hot topic amongst the baseball community. Some sided with the players. Some sided with the owners and league. And some sided with the fans.
It only continued to spiral out of control
During the 2020 MLB Draft, Manfred stated on ESPN: “…unequivocally, we are going to play Major League Baseball this year.”
On June 13, 2020, the union rejected the league’s latest return-to-play proposal and did not bother with countering. What’s the point in countering when the league would come back with the same proposal?
The MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement: “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”
Bruce Meyer, the union’s lead negotiator, said: “If it is your intention to unilaterally impose a season, we again request that you inform us and our members of how many games you intend to play and when and where the players should report. It is unfair to leave players and the fans hanging at this point. We demand that you inform us of your plans by close of business on Monday, June 15.”
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark today released the following statement: pic.twitter.com/ibyOqB93WC
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 15, 2020
Everything became a little bit darker for the game we love on June 15. Manfred said that he was “not confident” there would be a 2020 season. With ESPN’s Jeff Passan breaking the news on Monday afternoon, fans and players raged over Manfred’s comments. The chance of a nightmarish summer without Major League Baseball continued to increase. The commissioner’s office stated they would not proceed with scheduling. Not until the union waved their rights to do so.
During his appearance on an ESPN special, Manfred said: “We are running out of time. The clock is ticking. The first step is the MLBPA coming back to the table.”
Understandable—if the union hadn’t already made the statement, “When and Where”
Manfred needed to act in the best interest of the game and appease ownership. But rather than keeping his word, his confidence continued to falter. The threat of a billion-dollar grievance from the union and the increased chance of a work stoppage loomed. It was, in a word, disastrous for the game. Owners refused to budge and players stood their ground.
On June 17, 2020, Jon Heyman announced on Twitter that Manfred and Clark met face to face in Arizona. According to Heyman, the meeting was at Manfred’s request. Once again, for a brief matter of minutes, baseball seemed to be returning. As word spread on social media like wildfire, it was clear that baseball was not returning that easily.
On the same day, it was announced that Major League Baseball has sent a new proposal to the MLBPA. The proposal included a 60-game season-ending around September 27 with fully prorated salaries.
Worth noting: MLB’s last offer to the players maxed out at $1.5 billion. The money over a 60-game season at full pro rata: $1.5 billion.
If there’s a deal to be done, it is going to be for more than 60 games. Union will counter higher. And somewhere in the middle is the season.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 17, 2020
Multiple league sources announced that Manfred and Clark had settled on the framework of an agreement. Multiple union sources were adamant this information was untrue. Clark informed Manfred a season of 60-games would not be considered long enough. The union did not view 60 as enough of an increase from the ~50-odd number that Manfred could impose. Fans on social media, players and the league were exasperated by the end of the week. And even more grim news lurked on the horizon.
COVID-19 re-entered the chat
News broke on June 19, 2020, that there was an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Philadelphia Phillies training complex. In Clearwater, Fla., where the facility is located, eight of the 16 people tested were positive for the virus. The true extent of the outbreak was cause for concern with 32 players and staff members awaiting results.
While the union and league battled each other, the uncomfortable reality of COVID-19 seemed to be the ultimate enemy. Word continued to spread with COVID-19 news. Heighten concerns came from both sides, ultimately wanting to work through the health and safety protocols.
The Blue Jays and Astros also reported players testing positive for COVID-19 on June 19 in Florida. The Giants shut down their complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a visitor developed symptoms. Two players in the Angels organization also tested positive. Neither player in the Angels organization was working out in Anaheim or Tempe.
The league announced that all 30 camps would temporarily be closed. One MLB official stated: “COVID might just end up defeating us all.”
The original March agreement between the two parties requires players to play as long as MLB pays full prorated salaries. The pandemic, however, could affect the length of the season and how much players could earn. A season-ending by late September with a World Series in October would give the league a better chance of avoiding the potential second wave.
Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted: “What happens when we all get it?”
The rejected vote and what came next
On June 22, 2020, the union voted 33-5 to reject the latest proposal from the league. The vote had been slated for the weekend but was quickly delayed with the reports of COVID-19. With the official word being released, MLB planned to implement a 60-game season. In a statement, Major League Baseball asked for the union’s response to two questions:
- Whether players will be able to report to camp within seven days (by July 1st).
- Whether the Players Association will agree on the Operating Manual which contains health and safety protocols necessary.
Ahead of the originally scheduled meeting, Manfred sent a letter to Clark. He made the case of a 60-game regular season and how it is most feasible.
MLB statement: pic.twitter.com/Jz3rSTvXuU
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 23, 2020
By the end of the night, it was unknown if the union planned on meeting the deadline. The union did announce that it anticipated finalizing the protocols in the “coming day.” Some saw the outcome and the events of June 22 as a small victory. Others looked at it differently, such as Trevor Bauer, who tweeted: “It’s an absolute death for this industry to act as it has been.”
Bauer added: “We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved?”
Important to note, the results of the vote included turning down a guaranteed playoff pool of $25 million in 2020. Players are to be paid in during postseason as they would in a normal season. The league’s offer included $33 million in salary forgiveness and other enticements. The offer was an attempt to put any fear from players to rest. Overall, the union still felt uncomfortable. The uncomfortable feeling came from health risks and financial situations.
Ultimately, two of the biggest challenges MLB will face going forward will be COVID-19, as well as normal baseball injuries. For example, an oblique injury could keep a player out for 4-8 weeks. If a player were to suffer from an injury, it could remove them from the short season. According to Jeff Passan, MLB will institute a special COVID-19 related injury list for players who test positive, have had exposure, or are showing signs of symptoms.
Players will earn around 37% of their full-season salary. First, the season will start with 30-man rosters and end with 26-man rosters after four weeks. For instance, teams will be able to invite all 60 players to big-league spring training. Secondly, teams can take up to three taxi squad players on the road—if a team chooses to do so, one player must be a catcher. The trade deadline for 2020 will be on August 31, 2020. In addition, there will be DHs in the National League for the first time in baseball history.
In conclusion to the events taking place on June 23, 2020, MLB released the following statement: “Major League Baseball is thrilled to announce that the 2020 season is on the horizon. We have provided the Players Association with a schedule to play 60 games and are excited to provide our great fans with Baseball again soon.”
Major League Baseball is back
The short season will allow mediocre teams to advance to October this year. If a sub-.500 team were to go on a run, they could knock out some of baseball’s best teams. The schedule has been sent to the union for approval. Therefore, if approved, teams will play 10 games against opponents in their own division and 20 games against teams in interleague play.
On-field changes include adopting the minor league rule for extra innings. Beginning every half-inning after the ninth, a runner will be placed on second base. The designated runner will be the person who made the final out in the prior half-inning. The pitcher will not be charged with an earned run if the runner crosses home plate.
After three months of uncertainty and endless drama, baseball has returned. The season will consist of 60-games. Spring training 2.0 will start in about a week from today, where players will report in their respective cities. Opening Day will be on July 23 or 24, 2020. The MLBPA announced on Twitter: “All remaining issues have been resolved and Players are reporting to training camps.”
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)