NEW YORK (AP) — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says there might be no major league games this year after a breakdown in talks between teams and the players’ union on how to split up money in a season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The league also revealed several players on big league rosters have tested positive for COVID-19.
Two days after union head Tony Clark declared additional negotiations futile, Manfred reversed his position of last week when he said he was “100%” certain the 2020 season would start.
Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem sent a seven-page letter to players’ association chief negotiator Bruce Meyer asking the union whether it will waive the threat of legal action and tell MLB to announce a spring training report date and a regular-season schedule.
These were just the latest escalating volleys in a sport viewing disagreements over starting the season as a preliminary battle ahead of bargaining to replace the labor contract that expires on Dec. 1, 2021.
“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it,” Manfred said during an appearance on ESPN. “It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”
Spring training was stopped because of the pandemic on March 12, two weeks before opening day, and the sides reached an agreement March 26 on how to revise their labor deal to account for the virus.
Since then, the hostility has escalated to 1990s levels as the sides exchanged offers. MLB claims teams can’t afford to play without fans and pay the prorated salaries called for in the March deal, which included a provision for “good-faith” negotiations over the possibility of games in empty ballparks or neutral sites.
“The proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country over the last week, and the fact that we already know of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive, has increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks,” Halem wrote in his letter to Meyer, which was obtained by the AP.
Halem sent Meyer a letter with a sarcastic tone Friday accompanying MLB’s latest offer, and Meyer responded with a hostile timbre Saturday as the sides memorialized positions ahead of a possible grievance before the panel chaired by independent arbitrator Mark Irvings. Halem’s letter Monday asked the union for many clarifications of its positions.
“I note that both the NBA and NHL, two leagues which you repeatedly reference in your letter, do not intend to resume play until about Aug. 1, and both intend to resume play at a limited number of sites with a quarantine approach,” Halem wrote. “Please let us know the association’s views on quarantining players in league-approved hotels (like the NBA’s Disney World model) when they are not at the ballpark if conditions worsen over the next few weeks.”
“Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told players and fans that there would ‘100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season,” Clark said in a statement.
“This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning,” Clark added. “This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”