Summer is usually the domain of baseball, and weeks ago it was said that the sport would return triumphantly on July 4th.
But instead of symbolically replanting the flag in the sports landscape after an interruption of the corona virus, Major League Baseball decided on Tuesday for a much shorter season with 60 games that began in late July.
However, this plan only came after a protracted stance by the team owners and the players’ union, which threatened to derail the season and damage the reputation of a sports wrestler decline in participation and bruises from one of the worst scams in the history of sport.
“The virus has injured a large number of people, companies and institutions,” said Marc Ganis, a professional sports consultant. “Was baseball hurt more than it needed to be? The answer is absolutely yes. “
Much of this pain was self-inflicted, the result of a frayed relationship between the league’s 30 team owners and the players’ union.
Discussions between the two sides about when and how the season should be restarted were repeatedly interrupted after they started in March. At the heart of the controversy was how much players would be paid in a shortened season: the union was ready to accept prorated wages for fewer games, but declined further cuts when it became clear that games would be played in empty stadiums.
The league exercised its right to impose a 60-game season on Monday, which is expected to begin on July 23 or 24. Late Tuesday, the union announced that its concerns about player health and safety during the pandemic had been resolved, allowing athletes to report to training camps.
The negotiations that led to the agreement were haunted by memories of a 1994 strike that canceled this year’s World Series and devastated the sport for years. A canceled season and a break of 17 months without games could have been an even bigger disaster for the sport.
“It is absolutely dead for this industry to act as it was,” said Trevor Bauer, the outspoken pitcher of the Cincinnati Reds. wrote on Twitter on Monday evening. “Both sides. We drive the bus straight off a cliff. How is that good for everyone involved? Covid 19 already presented a loose-loose-situation and we somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”
The reasons for the collapse, Ganis said, were a “terrible relationship” between the league and the players’ union, an indefinite agreement between the sides in March, the upcoming labor dispute after the 2021 season, and “greed if the rest of the country does so sore. “
He said baseball had already dealt with cable cutting that had damaged teams’ broadcast revenue, an aging fan base, and inability to speed up the game. During the winter, the emergence of a scandal that found that the Houston Astros illegally used live video feeds during their 2017 championship season to steal the signs of the opponents’ catchers further damaged the sport’s reputation.
“It’s amazing that they couldn’t even get together during an international pandemic,” Ganis said of the players and owners.
Still, it was a victory to implement any plan for this year, even if the public back-and-forth between wealthy gamblers and even richer owners made it look bad during a deadly pandemic. But the lengthy process could look worse afterwards if a feared second wave of infection comes in the fall if the season could have started earlier.
While many players – and the thousands of employees whose livelihood depend on games – were grateful that an end to the dispute was imminent, some remained concerned that even if a season started, it could not be completed due to the unpredictable virus.
During the discussions, M.L.B. Executives and team owners opposed the player union’s proposals for seasons of 89 and 114 games that would go deeper into the year than usual – not just because of the money that teams would lose if they kept games without fans, but because they were one The virus would wipe out the lucrative postseason.
According to the plan that Commissioner Rob Manfred imposed on Monday, a second spring training session will start next week with the opening day at the end of July – about four months after the season’s originally planned start. A normal season is 162 games; This would be the shortest since the early years of the National League in the late 1870s.
An asterisk can always hover over the 2020 season due to its length – after 60 games last year, eventual champion Washington Nationals held a weak 27-33 record – and the unusual rules that are likely to be enacted, including a designated batsman for both Americans and national leagues, larger squads and additional innings with a runner on the second base to end the games earlier.
The expanded disagreement between M.L.B. Owners and player unions began in March after both sides quickly negotiated a return-to-play pact, which they interpreted in very different ways over the following months.
In this deal, players agreed to be paid per game, but M.L.B. later expected further salary concessions for a season without fans in the stands. The union has long been skeptical of poor weeping owners and has not moved to set a precedent that could weaken negotiations on a new collective agreement if the current one ends after the next season.
Given the mistrust and hostility of the parties during these negotiations, a lockout before the 2022 season is just as likely, if not more likely.
In April M.L.B. and the union debated ideas on how to start the season safely during the pandemic, even when considering a closed-off environment similar to that N.B.A. and Major League Soccer are planning this summer near Orlando, Florida. But the logistical hurdles were many and the players largely rejected this suggestion.
When it became clear that there would be no fans of baseball games this summer, M.L.B. repeatedly suggested further pay cuts and a shorter season, while players stuck to the full pro-rata payment and pushed for more games. The rhetoric between the pages grew sharper with every published statement and every exchanged letter.
Soon after The union broke off the negotiations Earlier this month and requested M.L.B. To set the schedule under the March agreement, Manfred went on national television and said he was “not sure”One season would ever be played this year.
He eventually sparked talks with the union’s executive director, Tony Clark, but even then the parties were unable to agree on the framework they had discussed during a meeting in Arizona.
The owners proposed a 60-game season last week that included expanded playoffs, a universal hitter, 104 percent of prorated salaries, $ 25 million from a playoff pool, and $ 33 million in salary advances. The union countered with a 70-game season and other sweeteners, but the owners refused to even consider this suggestion.
An agreement would have urged both sides to waive their right to lodge a complaint that threatened the union to make substantial payments for what the league had maliciously negotiated. After the union decisively rejected the owners ‘offer on Monday, which preserved the players’ complaint option, the owners decided to implement a 60-game season with no expanded playoffs or additional financial incentives for the players.
Manfred then exercised the option given to him by the March agreement to set up a schedule himself.
The final delay in completing the health and safety protocols was resolved on Tuesday evening. M.L.B. had given players a 67-page health and safety guide that detailed the coronavirus testing several times a week, new rules for social distance from clubhouses and shelters, and criteria by which vulnerable players could refuse to play. The manual grew and the pages signed it on Tuesday evening.
Due to an increase in cases in Arizona and Florida, the two hubs for spring training, and where players had trained informally, several teams, including the Mets and Yankees, reversed the course and decided instead to return to their regular season homes on practice methods in the pre-season Exercises. M.L.B. Close the spring training complexes of all 30 teams over the weekend for a thorough cleanup after players and staff on multiple teams – including the Philadelphia Phillies and Yankees – tested positive for the virus.
“Baseball had two major advantages: a large number of games and a summer calendar that was practically inaccessible,” said Ganis. “Maybe that could change forever.”
He speculated that the N.B.A. Ratings may rise this summer, and the start of the 2020-21 season may also need to be postponed by two months to move further away from the popular N.F.L. and college football seasons and deeper into the summer area of baseball.
Fans have been without baseball since March 12th. After the spring training games in Florida that day, M.L.B. Due to the spread of the virus, the planned opening day on March 26 was postponed by at least two weeks. At that time, some hoped baseball would return in April – an idea that now seems naive.
In contrast to the N.H.L. and N.B.A., who had played most of their regular seasons at the time of the pandemic in North America, M.L.B. hadn’t started his own. And despite a meandering path into an unknown season, M.L.B. is still ready to hit her in action – by a week.
Tyler Kepner contributed to the reporting.