MLB commissioner Rob Manfred came under fire Wednesday after saying in an interview on "The Dan Patrick Show" that a season longer than 60 games was never feasible. “The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games no matter how the negotiations with the players went, or any other factor,” Manfred told Patrick.
The negative response to those comments was substantial, considering the March agreement between the league and players association expressly stipulated that two parties would make their “best efforts to play as many games as possible.” On Thursday, Manfred spoke to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale in an effort to clarify the point he claims to have been making:
"My point was that no matter what happened with the union, the way things unfolded with the second spike, we would have ended up with only time for 60 games, anyway. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that the course of the virus was going to dictate how many games we could play. … If we had started an 82-game season [beginning July 1], we would have had people in Arizona and Florida the time the second spike hit."
Major League Baseball’s initial proposal to the MLB Players Association was indeed for 82 games with an early-July start date, although that proposal came with additional pay cuts beyond the prorated salaries. The union steadfastly rejected further cuts. Their contention was that the March agreement clearly stated prorated salaries would be in place regardless of whether fans attended games, though neither executive director Tony Clark nor anyone else in the MLBPA could ever seem to explain why they then also allowed the inclusion of a clause indicating the two parties would “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”
Ultimately, MLB and the MLBPA failed to reach an agreement on the length of a season, which led Manfred to impose a season length with prorated salaries. MLB settled on a 60-game schedule — likely in an effort to avoid a grievance by implementing a season longer than ownership’s reportedly preferred 48 to 54 games.
In the days since that season length has been implemented, there’s been widespread speculation that the MLBPA nonetheless plans to file a grievance against the league — challenging the notion that MLB made its “best efforts to play as many games as possible.” Manfred’s Wednesday comments to Patrick were viewed by many as ammunition for said grievance, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him quickly endeavor to contextualize his words and distance himself from the surface-level sentiment.
That said, what Manfred cannot — or at least so far has not — explain is why the league took so long to get a proposal to the union in the first place. The March agreement was ratified on March 26, and there was already considerable discussion about playing games without spectators at that point. The first report that the league would seek additional pay cuts from players emerged way back on April 16, and yet the league didn’t actually put forth a proposal including those cuts until May 26. Even the league’s initial plan — a 50-50 revenue share that was leaked prior to its official proposal and publicly rejected by the union — wasn’t finalized by owners until May 11.
There’s been vocal criticism of both the union and the league throughout these unsightly and unyielding negotiations. One particularly popular (and still speculative) theory has been that the league deliberately prolonged negotiations to the point where the number of games sought by the union simply couldn’t fit into the schedule. The MLBPA’s initial proposal was for a 119-game season. Subsequent counter-offers featured seasons of 89 games and 70 games, all with prorated salaries. The league never gave consideration to any of those — just as the union gave zero consideration to any MLB proposals seeking pay reductions beyond prorated salaries.
The authenticity behind Manfred’s explanation and the motives of both the league and the MLBPA throughout this contentious process can be (and have been) debated ad nauseam. The end result is a 60-game season and a rebooted “Summer Camp” that will see players begin to report tomorrow — at a time when COVID-19 cases are again on the rise throughout much of the country. Given that context, perhaps the most telling quote from Manfred is not his comment on the length of season but rather another statement he provided to Nightengale:
“The reality is that we’re going to be lucky if we [get] 60 games now given the course of the virus.”