NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball plans to unilaterally issue a 60-game schedule for its shortest season since 1878 after the players' association rejected a negotiated deal of the same length, putting the sport on track for a combative return to the field amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark met last week and outlined plans that included expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 16, widening use of the designated hitter to National League games and an experiment to start extra innings with a runner on second base. But the latest version of the deal proposed by MLB was rejected by the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board in a 33-5 vote on Monday.
Those innovations now disappear.
“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” MLB said in a statement. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new postseason format. And, it offered players significant benefits.”
MLB's control owners approved going unilaterally with the 60-game schedule in ballparks without fans if the final arrangements can be put in place, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.
MLB asked the union to respond by 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday as to whether players can report to training by July 1 and whether the players' association will agree on the operating manual of health and safety protocols. The schedule would be the shortest since the National League's third season.
Given the need for three days of virus testing and 21 days of workouts, opening day likely would be during the final week of July. MLB already has started to investigate charter flights that could bring players back from Latin America, another person told the AP, also on condition of anonymity because no announcements were made.
The union announced its rejection, and the vote total was confirmed by a person familiar with that meeting who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the balloting was not made public. The decision likely will provoke what figures to be lengthy and costly litigation over the impact of the coronavirus on the sport, similar to the collusion cases that sent baseball spiraling to a spring training lockout in 1990 and a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades.
It also eliminates a $25 million postseason players' pool, meaning players will not get paid anything above meal money during the playoffs and World Series, and the clubs' offer to forgive $33 million in salary advanced to 769 players at the bottom of the salary scale with lower rates of pay while in the minors: $16,500, $30,000 or $60,000 for each of them.
“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides,” Cincinnati pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted in a rare instance of a player criticizing the union. “We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid 19 already presented a lose lose lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”
Teams lose what would have been a new right to sell advertising patches on uniforms, broadcast enhancements such as having players wear microphones during games and a 2020 suspension of the luxury tax that for a 60-game season projected to save the New York Yankees $8.5 million, Houston $3 million, the Los Angeles Dodgers $434,000 and the Chicago Cubs $116,000.
Manfred loses what would have been an additional $60 million to the commissioner's discretionary fund.
The union said in a statement that the “board reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible."