Fantasy Baseball, 2020:
On April 1, Rob Manfred and Tony Clark (imaginarily) held this joint Zoom news conference.
Manfred: Tony and I have decided to cancel the 2020 Major League Baseball season today. We see too many hurdles to clear, too many logistical dilemmas to ponder, too many people suffering.
All tickets purchased for the year will be refunded immediately. I and all 30 teams’ CEOs and presidents will give up our salaries to ensure that our lower-paid employees, including our minor league players and gameday workers, will be covered.
Clark: I too will forfeit my pay — although I don’t make as much as Rob (both men chuckle) — and here’s what our players have decided: Anyone who made more than $20 million last year will donate $1 million. Anyone who earned between $10 million and $20 million will give $500,000. That’s a total of $61.5 million.
Manfred: Our owners will match that $61.5 million, and that $123 million fund, to be overseen jointly, will help with families impacted by COVID-19, personal protective equipment, struggling businesses and anything and everything else. Our players, managers, coaches and front-office members will spend the year visiting the planet from their homes, bringing attention where it is needed, providing virtual hugs and hopefully creating a few smiles. Lord willing, we’ll see you at your favorite ballpark in 2021.
Would’ve been awesome, right? Now it becomes what could have been, like when Diane Lane envisions hopping in a taxi and never entering Olivier Martinez’s apartment in “Unfaithful.”
Maybe Manfred, Clark and their deputies can wiggle their way out of this collective-bargaining impasse in the next week. Work through their mutual contempt to discover financial common ground, settle the health and safety issues and kick off spring training in two weeks in order to start the season in early July.
Even if that occurs, though, the scars of these past two months will linger. Because during a time of unprecedented pain, sacrifice and divisiveness, MLB has not honored its self-stated role as a social institution.
Start with the arguing, which has escalated these last couple of weeks and comes off as awfully tone deaf. The MLB Players Association did not sufficiently alert its membership that the owners would ask for another pay cut if games could be held only without paying fans and has wasted time with the ridiculous argument that the late March agreement settled the matter of player pay. MLB itself, meanwhile, proposed a sliding-scale formula to players that works perfectly well for a team’s front office and not at all for a union to approve by vote. How a labor lawyer as accomplished as Manfred would proffer such a setup confounds and confuses.
For those who haven’t been following chapter and verse of these toxic talks, the good news is that MLB has found other ways to poison its product. Teams have taken their sweet time servicing their customers for tickets to games that, at best, will be played with no one in the stands, and the worst offenders, including the Yankees and Mets, have forced their clientele to jump through hoops rather than simply process a reimbursement.
The game’s future, moreover, has suffered with the shortsighted decision to slash this year’s amateur draft to five rounds as well as individual clubs releasing minor leaguers en masse — or, in the case of the A’s, not paying them — and cutting salaries of employees making five figures.
These bad acts diminish the good work done by folks like Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, who did give up his $5 million salary, or players like Giancarlo Stanton, David Price and Pete Alonso), who donated their money and/or time in thoughtful ways, or teams like the Royals, who have kept all of their minor leaguers. Too bad a chain pulls only as strong as its weakest link.
Opting to play, while not the best path, nevertheless could have strengthened the industry had the two parties gone about it quite differently. And baseball still can make it back on the field first, before hockey or basketball.
It is too late, however, for this sport to lead. It truly dropped the ball.