Today saw a major run of political support for the launch of a big league season. Several big-state governors expressed a willingness to host professional sports in their biggest cities on a timeline that would support MLB’s hopes for an early July launch.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo (via Denis Slattery of the New York Daily News), California governor Gavin Newsom (via Jon Passantino of CNN.com reports on Twitter), and Texas governor Greg Abbott (via Rebecca Hennes of the Houston Chronicle reports) each announced support for a summer return to play. Of course, in all cases the continued threat of the coronavirus will make in-person attendance impossible at the outset.
Television-only baseball isn’t optimal, but it’s certainly a worthwhile goal if it can be accomplished in a manner that accords with overriding public health needs. Opinions vary as to the merits of MLB’s proposals to date, which would rely upon frequent testing of participants and the elimination of certain activities that may carry a greater risk of transmission.
The concern remains that the benefits of staging a campaign don’t outweigh the dedication of resources and added potential for spread of the virus. Given the ongoing debate, this (seemingly somewhat coordinated) series of announcements represents a notable vote of confidence.
“I think this is in the best interest of all the people and in the best interest in the state of New York,” Cuomo said of the return of professional sports. “And then they’ll be up and running and when we can fill a stadium again, we can fill a stadium.”
The increasing likelihood of play resuming also draws more focus to ongoing economic chatter between the league and union. As Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic report (subscription link), the standoff on player pay continues as the sides wait for another to blink.
It seems the most immediate dispute is rather narrow — and, frankly, a bit hard to comprehend. Despite publicizing a 50/50 revenue sharing concept — but not ever making clear just what revenue would be shared — the league has yet to formally propose that approach to the players.
At the moment, per The Athletic, the league’s position is that “the union needs to drop its stance that the salary matter is closed before it makes a new proposal.” On the other hand, the MLBPA “does not think it should discuss sacrificing additional pay until the league demonstrates its financial distress.”
This seems either to be a symbolic battle that shouldn’t need to be held or yet another instance of the sides jockeying for technical advantage rather than just diving into the many practical issues that confront them. Either way, there’s obviously a need both for the league to come forward with information regarding “economic feasibility” of fan-free games and for the union to consider whether it is sufficient to justify modification of the pro rata reduction of pay that was already agreed upon.
If the negotiating parties had a greater degree of trust, they probably wouldn’t be grounded on this particular sandbar. There’s so much to lose for all involved that they’ll surely find a way to make progress. But every moment of financial bickering represents a mutual lost opportunity to generate goodwill through the return of the game. And the only lack of trust ramps up the potential risks, given that the league and union are only just beginning to jointly navigate the unknown waters of baseball in the era of the coronavirus.