Major League Baseball was one of the many professional sports leagues deeply impacted by COVID-19. Perhaps having it worse than most, baseball’s 2020 season began just as the global outbreak took hold. But the owners did themselves no favors with players or fans by threatening to cancel the season before finally honoring an agreed-upon deal with a sliding scale for players – about 37% pay for 60 regular-season games.
Spring training is just getting underway with pitchers and catchers reporting, and there are again calls by owners for starting the upcoming season late or shortening it. The bottom line is that owners want paying customers in the seats to offset their costs – owners claim 40% of their income is from fans attending games. Again, the Players Association argues against this, pointing out that both sides agreed last July to the current 2021 schedule with an April 1 opening day and 162 game-schedule. It wants a full schedule with full pay for the players.
New proposal for 2021
The owners proposed a new format for 2021. It included:
- Fewer games
- A compressed schedule
- Universal designated hitter again like 2020
- 14 game playoffs also like 2020
- A November World Series
The players association rejected the proposal, ratcheting up the tension. To be fair, the Baseball Association is simply holding owners to negotiated agreements.
This essentially puts professional baseball back into a contentious labor-management standoff for a season to be followed by the December 1 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. It could lead to a work stoppage in 2022. Considering the tone of the rhetoric, this may be a reality just as the world (hopefully) emerges from the pandemic.
Players’ position looks good for 2021
The NFL, NBA and NHL’s success in empty or limited capacity stadiums would seem to work in the players’ favor. Moreover, the owners are legally bound to honor the predetermined agreement for the season. So, unless there is a major COVID outbreak among players and across the country, we will have baseball in April regardless of how loudly the owners complain.