After a summer of unsuccessful negotiations between the MLB and the MLBPA, they will once again have to negotiate and agree before the 2021 season.
The ugliest aspect of the 2020 calendar year for the MLB world was undoubtedly the three months of very public negotiations that the owners and the players went through before the 2020 season was able to resume.
Rather than being at the forefront of the return of sports, fans were subjected to millionaires arguing with billionaires while the country was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. After weeks of posturing, proposals, counterproposals, and bellyaching, a deal wasn’t agreed on and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had to institute the 60-game season.
The result of these negotiations turned a lot of fans away from the sport, with some fans even wishing the season never happened at all.
Sadly, it looks like more of this unpleasantness will be coming in the future.
Even with the amazing news that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved and sent out for immunizations to begin, there is still uncertainty about when the vaccine will be readily available for the general public. For the MLB, this is an issue for getting fans packed into the stands again.
While I would guess fans in the stands are the primary concern of the owners, they are dressing it up as worrying about player health and safety, even after a year where baseball was played without a vaccine.
From Bob Nightengale’s article above, there were many quotes from team owners and execs, but this one stood out the most: “But to have 162 games, and start spring training at the normal time without players being vaccinated, that’s just crazy.”
This does sound like genuine concern for player health (which is surely part of it), but the result from forcing players to get the vaccine that the owners want is fewer games played and lower salaries that owners have to pay.
For the demographic group that the vast majority of players fall into (20-40 years old), they won’t be near the front of the line to get the vaccine. Jumping in line to get vaccinated before those who need it more is a moral and public relations line that I don’t believe the MLB would dare cross either.
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Because of this, forcing players to get the vaccine before they come to spring training is a de facto way to shorten the season with a well-built facade in the front.
On the player side, they proved last year (with a few minor hiccups) that they could follow protocol and still play. Players may not have loved the protocol they had to follow, but for the most part, it worked. As the owners have pointed out already, the vaccine should conveniently be available by May or June, so the players are going to argue that they should be able to play under protocol for the first two months then get vaccinated and go back to a more normal way of operating.
There are a ton of ways to dig into this, but right now the storm is already growing for the fight to determine what the 2021 season will look like. Even scarier is that whatever is agreed on for 2021 will lead right into the 2022 CBA negotiations. If 2021 negotiations get as ugly as the summer 2020 negotiations were, a potential strike in 2022 could be catastrophic for the sport.
In this time of uneasiness between the two sides, this is a phenomenal chance for Rob Manfred to show leadership and coax the two sides together. It may not be easy, but it could be an important factor in the long-term health of the sport.
These negotiations will likely be the talk of the spring as there is a long way to go before any of this gets ironed out. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the two sides get to a solution on this quickly and quietly.