Members of the Cactus League penned a letter to MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred yesterday requesting the delay of Spring Training due to a rising number of coronavirus cases in Maricopa County. The MLBPA responded swiftly, reinforcing their position that they have no plans to delay the season. MLB cannot delay the start of spring training without approval from the MLBPA.
After news of the letter broke yesterday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote, “Both MLB and the players association put out bland statements. The key behind the scenes is to know the union sees the Cactus League officials as tools of MLB.”
Today, Alex Coffey of the Athletic reports that a representative from MLB “encouraged members of the Cactus League to write a letter to to commissioner Rob Manfred voicing a desire to delay the start of spring training…” Truthfully, this revelation doesn’t likely change much, as those involved clearly already had a sense for the politics at play here, and the MLBPA seemed wholly unmoved by the letter.
Meanwhile, Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher denies that there was any pressure from the league to write the letter. Coffey provides a quote from a source that seems to put this public squabble in perspective: “I do think two things can be true. City leaders feel like they are doing right on health policy. The owners and league staff are using that to their advantage, perhaps without the cities having any sense about it.”
Certainly, though it’s easy to demonize MLB for politicizing the pandemic and using public opinion to coerce the MLBPA into a weaker negotiating position so that they might achieve their financial goals, the MLBPA can be cast in an equally harsh light if we assume a delay really is the safest course of action. Negotiating through the public square usually creates particularly antagonistic optics, but the reality here is that the two sides are going to keep negotiating on these points until they find an acceptable common ground.
In the meantime, the beat goes on. The Arizona Diamondbacks released a statement detailing the progress that continues to be made in preparation for the season. From the release: “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) joined the Cactus League, its teams and spring training facilities, and state and local partners Tuesday for a virtual tabletop exercise to review pre-incident preparedness measures and response plans at stadiums during spring training. While several of the teams and stadiums regularly review plans and conduct drills, for the second year in a row, a leaguewide exercise was held to allow everyone to share best practices and discuss coordination should an incident affect more than one venue. The exercise scenario included an information and intelligence sharing piece among public and private sectors, and an active threat at a ballpark. Tuesday’s exercise was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions and was not in a response to any specific threat.”