MLBPA chief Tony Clark spoke with Bob Nightengale of USA Today about the union’s stance on returning to play in 2020. His comments focused primarily on the pervasive ongoing uncertainty, but Clark also says he’s remaining optimistic.
On the one hand, there’s nothing new here. As Clark acknowledges, the course of the scientific, social, and political response to the virus will dictate what baseball can do and when.
“We don’t have the answers, and we don’t expect those to come anytime soon,” Clark explains.
At the same time, it’s important to understand where the chief decisionmakers stand on these matters. Clark echoed MLB commissioner Rob Manfred regarding the need to consider first the broader public needs. Testing availability is critical, he said, but “it can’t be at the expense of public testing.” And it must be determined how the virus “can be mitigated in the public arena as much as the professional arena.”
While there’s a lot of overlap in league and union interests — everyone wants to be a positive force and to get revenue moving again — there are obviously quite a few differences in situation. Playing in empty stadiums won’t be a problem, Clark says. And the union side is willing to consider some experimental measures to make things interesting and accommodate a compressed schedule.
But what of the much bigger potential issues? There’s agreement in the near term on the rules regarding player contracts, but what will happen to long-term guarantees and upcoming free agent and arbitration cases? And will players be willing to live apart from families and accept other restrictions on their personal lives if that proves necessary to holding a season?
Clark says “it would be premature to have that discussion” and adds that he doesn’t intend “to negotiate through the media.” Ultimately, he says, the concepts that have been discussed to this point lack “depth” and feature “too many assumptions” to be addressed in detail.
“Once we find ourselves in discussions with the league in terms of options and variations, we in turn can present those ideas to the players, and the players can decide what makes most sense,” Clark explains.
One of the most interesting matters coming down the pike hasn’t yet been addressed by Clark or Manfred: the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement in 2021. There was prior chatter of an early initiation of negotiations, so the sides have already been thinking about things. The present crisis has obviously required difficult modifications to the present bargaining period. It will also change the parameters of the next one. As league and union make difficult tradeoffs now, they’ll surely be considering the impacts and perhaps even beginning negotiations regarding their next overarching agreement. At the same time, sudden and vast uncertainty will make it all the more challenging to think through the future.