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MLB union head Tony Clark balks at renegotiating player salaries for possible fan-less games

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark talks to the media before a spring training game in Lakeland, Fla., on March 17, 2015. Credit: AP/Carlos Osorio

Getting Major League Baseball back on the field this summer is going to take more than a successful battle against the coronavirus if those inside the sport plan to keep fighting among themselves.

Union chief Tony Clark took issue Monday with the suggestion that players’ salaries for a truncated season would need to be renegotiated if games were hosted at neutral sites, with no fans, as relayed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after last week’s conversation with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon.

“Players recently reached an agreement with Major League Baseball that outlines economic terms for resumption of play, which included significant salary adjustments and a number of other compromises,” Clark said in an email statement. “That negotiation is over.

“We’re now focused on discussing ways to get back on the field under conditions that prioritize the health and well-being of players and their families, coaches, umpires, team staff and fans.”

On March 26, MLB and the union agreed that players would receive a full year’s credit for service time, even if the season is canceled, as well as a $170 million advance on salaries that runs through May 24. Also included was a provision that called for contracts to be prorated based on the number of games played.

But there also is some fine print, designed to address the scenario without fans, such as the one centered around Arizona’s spring training facilities — and recently endorsed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases.

According to a person familiar with the agreement, the clause reads: “The office of the commissioner and players association will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”

That’s a critical detail from the owners’ perspective, as commissioner Rob Manfred has said that roughly 40% of a team’s revenue comes from the gate, which includes tickets, concessions and parking.

Based on those figures alone, it would be difficult to envision owners green-lighting neutral-site games if they had to pay even prorated contracts rather than reduced salaries that reflect lost revenue.

Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller, who is part of the union’s eight-man executive committee that helped craft the March deal, raised a more cautious tone, given that MLB is far from any tangible timetable for a return.

“My understanding is that we already have an agreement in place regarding salary for the 2020 season when it resumes,” Miller wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Additionally, while ideas regarding games without fans or in neutral sites have been floated, nothing is even close to being put in place. It makes little sense to even attempt to negotiate around such hypotheticals at this point. If at some point there is any negotiation to be had, our leadership from the association will be ready to handle it.”

Obviously, the first priority is containing the COVID-19 outbreak, and that nationwide effort has put baseball in a holding pattern, just like everyone else.

Manfred repeatedly has talked about following the CDC’s lead in the decision-making process, but now that President Donald Trump has put that authority in the hands of individual states, determining a clear, unified pathway could be challenging.

Fauci previously had advocated the fan-less option regarding sporting events, but he took a somewhat more relaxed stance Monday, bringing up the possibility that spectators could be allowed in stadiums if they wore masks and were spread out in the seats.

“That is possible . . . but it’s going to be the virus that determines what the timetable is,” Fauci said Monday during an interview with YES Network’s Jack Curry. “Because if we get the virus under really good control and certain regions of the country can get gradually from the gateway to the Phase 1 to the Phase 2 to the Phase 3, it is conceivable that you may be able to have some baseball with people practicing physical separation — namely, you don’t pack a stadium.

“I think quite likely, although it’s always dangerous to predict, I think it’s more likely that you’re going to have more a television baseball than a spectator baseball.”

No fans means significantly less revenue, and MLB continues to take measures designed to offset the games already lost. A source confirmed Monday that Manfred informed teams he was suspending uniform employee contracts, which allows clubs to furlough or reduce salaries of non-player personnel such as managers, coaches and scouts.

Manfred’s action doesn’t take effect until May 1 and is still optional for teams, who at least are granted the flexibility to delay or defer payments without revenue coming in.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter suspended his own $5 million salary indefinitely Monday, as first reported by SportsGrid’s Craig Mish, along with other Miami executives.

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