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MLBPA head Tony Clark calls more negotiations futile: 'It's time to get back to work. Tell us when and where'

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark is seen during a news conference on March 22, 2017, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Credit: MLB via Getty Images / Alex Trautwig

Calling any more negotiations “futile,” union chief Tony Clark is daring commissioner Rob Manfred to make good on his threat to set a schedule on his own — absent an agreement with the Players Association.

Just this week, Manfred publicly guaranteed there would be a season “one way or another.” But after Friday’s 72-game proposal again failed to deliver full prorated salaries to the union, the players decided Saturday that they are done talking.

And with MLB suggesting that all the owners can afford is roughly 50 games, that may very well be the schedule unless Manfred chooses to come up with another proposal more to the union’s liking in short order — or concede to public pressure and add more games.

“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” Clark said in a statement. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

Despite Manfred’s pledge, there had been considerable reluctance to go without a deal. Manfred needs the union’s approval for expanded playoffs, which would mean more than $800 million for the owners, and both sides had included a postseason structure with as many as eight teams from each league in their latest proposals.

Now that might not happen. The players will be getting their 100% prorated salaries, as mandated by the March agreement, but MLB probably won’t be getting their full cooperation, and a number could opt out, for health reasons or other concerns.

“We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” MLB said Saturday night in a statement. “The MLBPA’s position that players are entitled to virtually all the revenue from a 2020 season played without fans is not fair to the thousands of other baseball employees that Clubs and our office are supporting financially during this very difficult 2020 season.

"We will evaluate the Union’s refusal to adhere to the terms of the March Agreement, and after consulting with ownership, determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans.”

Clark’s statement made it clear that the players are angry. They also felt their distrust for the owners was verified by reports that MLB had just agreed on a new $3 billion deal with TBS. Count on the union filing a grievance based on what it views as a lack of good-faith negotiating on MLB’s part.

“In recent days, owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless players agree to hundreds of millions in further concessions,” Clark said in the statement. “Our response has been consistent that such concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible.

“These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB’s national television rights — information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.”

What happens now? In Friday’s proposal, MLB called for a July 14 Opening Day based on a 72-game schedule. But if Manfred chooses to drastically reduce that number, such as 48 games, the opener could be delayed until Aug. 1, giving teams more time to report and figure out the pandemic-related protocols during a three-week spring training.

“Players want to play. It’s who we are and what we do,” Clark said. “Since March, the Association has made it clear that our No. 1 focus is playing the fullest season possible, as soon as possible, as safely as possible. Players agreed to billions in monetary concessions as a means to that end, and in the face of repeated media leaks and misdirection, we made additional proposals to inject new revenues into the industry — proposals that would benefit the owners, players, broadcast partners, and fans alike.

"It’s now become apparent that these efforts have fallen upon deaf ears.”

To think that the owners and players, lifelong adversaries, could work together this one timeto get baseball played during a worldwide epidemic apparently was too much to ask. Instead, the two sides have waged a very public war, against the backdrop of 40 million Americans unemployed and more than 100,000 dead, while repeatedly crushing the frail hopes of a hurting fan base.

On the health front, MLB and the Players Association have made some mutual adjustments to the 67-page operations manual, but there still are details to be worked out.

The biggest holdup has been money — in particular, how much the owners want to pay the players to stage a shortened season resulting in record losses for both sides. Friday’s proposal suggested a ceiling of $1.5 billion, or 83% of the players’ prorated salaries over 72 games, and only if the World Series was completed (with an additional $50 million playoff pool factored in).

That offer guaranteed just 70%, a significant step up from the previous offer’s 50% but far short of the union’s unwavering stance of 100% prorated salaries.

It’s been a frustrating, pointless dance going on a month now as the possible number of games for this season steadily shrinks. MLB started at 82 games, then dropped to 76, followed by 72. By the league’s thinking, the schedule gets trimmed to 68 after Sunday, as Manfred already has said that each day without a deal basically results in one fewer game.

Now Clark has dared him to go ahead with that schedule.

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