The end is near for baseball. Or for these mid-pandemic baseball restart talks, at least.
The executive board of the players’ union on Monday officially voted down, 33-5, what is expected to be MLB’s last proposal to start the season.
In response, MLB owners unanimously voted to proceed with the season under the terms of the sides’ late March agreement — which is to say, allowing commissioner Rob Manfred to choose the number of games, a power granted to him in that previous deal between the players and owners.
Manfred is planning to pick a 60-game season, a source confirmed.
Before he makes that official, MLB wants from the Players Association two pieces of information by 5 p.m. Tuesday: Whether players will be able to report to camp by July 1 — a week from Wednesday — and whether it agrees with the safety and heath protocols the parties have negotiated for the past month-plus.
“While we had hoped to reach a revised back to work agreement with the league, the Players remain fully committed to proceeding under our current agreement and getting back on the field for the fans, for the game, and for each other,” the PA said in a statement.
MLB said in its own statement: “Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development. The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new Postseason format.”
Because the sides did not agree on how and when to start the season, many of the more radical components of their various proposals no longer are going to happen, unless they negotiate a separate deal for any of those items. That includes expanding the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams this year, advertisements on uniforms and extra-inning rule changes such as putting a runner on second to start an inning and ending games in a tie.
Adding the DH to the National League might still be a part of the 2020 season if they fold it into the health and safety protocols. In a compact spring training followed by a sprint of a season, having a DH would help protect pitchers, who wouldn’t have to hit, and would lessen the physical strain for some position players, who wouldn’t have to play the field.
The rejected proposal called for a 60-game season, expanded playoffs and other incentives for both sides. But a sticking point for the union was MLB asking for it to waive its right to file a grievance.
The players’ options boiled down to: 1) accept the proposal, get a 60-game season, lose their ability to file a grievance or 2) decline the proposal, take however many games Manfred gives them and maintain their ability to file a grievance that MLB did not negotiate in good faith during this six-week saga.
The executive board overwhelmingly preferred the latter. Last week, the union suggested 70 games, which might have made waiving the grievance worthwhile, but MLB said no and insisted on a maximum of 60.
Amid all of that, nobody is sure if a season of any length actually will happen or be completed. As COVID-19 numbers rise in parts of the country — including Arizona and Florida, the spring training homes of all 30 teams — the pandemic remains the sport’s greatest threat. Already, MLB temporarily closed spring training sites late last week for cleaning and health protocol implementation. The Yankees and Mets are among the teams that chose to move their would-be second spring training to their home ballparks.
If details of a potential season are finalized soon, spring training could start again as soon as next week. That has been true at the start of each of the past several weeks.