With the announcement that regular-season baseball games — the first two series — will be canceled and not made up, fans are going to ask the question, “Who is to blame?”
And while there is surely blame to go around to both MLB and the MLBPA, this failure has to be laid on the doorstep of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
Look, in a game that at its core is a game about quick reactions and even quicker-twitch reactions, the man who works for the owners was slower than molasses during this process. If Jacob deGrom throws a 99 mph fastball that veers out of the strike zone and toward Justin Turner’s noggin, Turner has but a millisecond to avoid catastrophe.
Manfred had to know back in the spring of 2020 during his negotiations with the MLBPA about the rules of engagement for the pandemic-shortened season that a dark storm was forming over his game.
If you remember, the sides seemed to approach every issue in 2020 with a contentious attitude, but the biggest bickering was about how much players would be paid during a shortened, fanless season. The players wanted to play about 100-120 games in empty stadiums on fully prorated salaries. Ultimately, the commissioner ended up dictating that they would play only 60 games, and that was what the players would be paid for.
Those negotiations were filled with acrimony. Unlike my above image of how much time Turner would have to turn from the impending doom of an errant deGrom fastball, Manfred had about two years to ensure MLB would have its first full, non-COVID-impacted season since 2019.
For a man who is supposed be the steward of the game to not have pivoted after those very divisive negotiations that only ended because he could mandate a 60-game season is a failing of the highest order.
By all accounts, there were not any real talks between MLB and the MLBPA on a new basic agreement from June 2020 (when Manfred mandated the 60-game season) until after the owners’ lockout began in early December 2021.
Speaking of the post-lockout talks, to be candid and honest, the substantive talks didn’t even occur until last week in Jupiter, Fla. That was the last week of February. This from the commissioner who stated back on Dec. 1 that he hoped the lockout would accelerate the urgency in negotiations. And then the owners didn’t sit down with the MLBPA in person for more than 50 days.
Last time I checked, a commissioner is supposed to be the leader of the sport he is charged with running. Sure, we know the owners can pull his plug whenever they want, but the commissioner is supposed to do things that are in the best interests of the game.
How was it good for Manfred not to meet face-to-face with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark until these last few days? All of a sudden, when doom and gloom best described the tenor of negotiations and it looked like all was lost and regular-season games would be canceled, MLB suddenly showed some movement on a couple of the key issues.
On the night of Feb. 28, MLB owners leaked out information that there was strong momentum toward a deal getting done on the day that baseball had initially set as the arbitrary deadline before regular-season games would need to be canceled.
While it does appear the sides have made some good strides during the past few days, it was the hope of the owners that by setting the tone that a deal was at hand, the players would just allow themselves to be steamrolled on the last couple of issues.
And now another complication in getting the deal done has been thrown into the mix. MLB has indicated players will not be paid for games that are not played. The players, for their part, are saying that if they aren’t paid for missed games, then no deal.
The bet here is that the sides might stew for a couple days and then they’ll get a deal done with the key component being the 14-team playoff that the owners want. A 14-team playoff will enrich owners’ coffers by $100 million, giving the owners large enough crumbs to throw at the players.
The sport of baseball at its core is about quick reaction time. MLB has no business having a leader that reacts with all the dexterity of a sumo wrestler.