The union for the players in Major League Baseball officially rejected an offer by the league for a delayed start and shortened 2021 season, and with it, plan to have players report on time where they will play the normal 162 games.
The proposal sent on Friday to the MLB Players Association would have seen players play for 154 games but be paid for a full 162 game season. The proposed compressed schedule would have seen spring training start on Monday, March 22nd. The regular season would have commenced approximately a month later beginning on Wednesday, April 28th, and ending on October 10th instead of October 3rd with the postseason trailing into November. The season would have started by seeing 18 scheduled days off, with the schedule allowing for 12 split doubleheaders per team. The league’s reasoning for the delay was to increase the possibility of players and fans being vaccinated. In doing so, the owners would be able to see additional fans in the seats.
“The MLBPA executive board and player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and today,” the union said in a statement. “The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that the players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season and, will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its clubs to prepare for an on-time start.”
At least one club has already made plans to have fans at spring training games, thus potentially undermining MLB’s proposal for a later start.
The MLBPA said that while the player “salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB’s proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delay, interruptions, or cancellation of the season.” Those concerns of cancellations without pay meant that the offer of full-season pay for 154 played could be rendered moot if more than 8 games were eliminated a the discretion of commissioner Rob Manfred. The MLBPA saw this as increased powers for Manfred to make cancellations.
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“This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons without impacting any rights either the players or the clubs currently have under the [current labor deal] or Uniform Player’s Contract for pay and service time,” the league said in a statement.
The MLBPA also noted that the offer of the universal designated-hitter in exchange for expanded teams in the postseason had been previously rejected. The expanded postseason would have seen 14 teams, up from the normal 10 but down from 16 in the 60-game pandemic shortened 2020 season. Last year the players received a percentage of the television revenue for postseason play. In the proposal sent to the players for 2021, that offer of television revenue was pulled off the table. Instead, the players would have had to fall back to the provision in the current collective bargaining agreement which sees players receive “shares” based upon a percentage of gate revenues tied to attendance.
The union also expressed concerns of a compressed season creating a greater risk for COVID spread. The increased use of doubleheaders would mean the players would be together for longer periods at the ballpark.
While the players seek to only play under the collectively bargained rules under the current labor deal, they understand that commitment in the pandemic to social distancing and additional precautions are needed, given the challenges that came about early in MLB’s 2020 season with COVID cases.
“We do not make this decision lightly,” the union said. “Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help players and clubs meet these challenges.”
Understanding that the league was able to get through the 60-game season last year and that the NHL, NFL, and NBA are all currently playing, some in front of fans, the league said it would conduct the season under the provisions of the current labor agreement.
“In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our clubs to report for an on-time start to spring training and the [regular season], subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols,” the league continued in their statement. “Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball. We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, club staff, and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.”