Now, we know what the owners want to do and how they plan to do it. That much was outlined Thursday night by commissioner Rob Manfred when he went on CNN and detailed how the owners envision starting the COVID-19-shortened baseball season in early July.
“I think it is hopeful that we have major-league baseball this summer,” Manfred said. “We are making plans about playing in empty stadiums, but, as I’ve said before, all of those plans are dependent upon what the public health situation is and us reaching the conclusion that it will be safe for our players and other employees to come back to work.”
It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course. While the commissioner conveyed his message in a conventional manner, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell shared his opinion on the matter during a gaming session on Twitch.
“Bro, y’all gonna be like … ‘Play for the love of the game, what’s wrong with you? Money should not be a thing,’ ” Snell said. “Bro, I’m risking my life. What do you mean it should not be a thing? It should 100% be a thing. If I’m gonna play, I should be getting the money I signed to be getting paid. I should not be getting half of what I’m getting paid because the season’s cut in half, on top of a 33% cut of the half that’s already there -- so I’m really getting, like, 25%. On top of that, it’s getting taxed. So imagine how much I’m actually making to play, you know what I’m saying?”
That, for the record, is the first time I have ever quoted somebody off a Twitch stream, which is quite unsettling for a journalist still uncomfortable using Twitter quotes. Also for the record, Snell’s Rays were virtually facing Lucas Giloto and the Chicago White Sox as he was talking. The world has become so weird and please get off my lawn.
Snell, 27, was scheduled to make $7.6 million in what was going to be his first season making more than $1 million. Half that would be $3.8 million, but the owners’ reported revenue-sharing proposal with the players for this season would reduce the number even more. It’s understandable that he wants half his negotiated pay for the half season baseball wants to conduct, but the owners’ argument is that they have to reduce salaries even more because the games will be played without fans.
Support for Snell’s opinion came swiftly from Bryce Harper, and of course it came on a Twitch stream as the Phillies’ star right fielder faced off in a game of Fortnite against Bryson Stott, a fellow Las Vegas native and the team’s No. 1 draft pick last year.
“I love Snell,” Harper told Stott. “That’s my guy, bro. ... He’s speaking the truth, bro. I ain’t mad at him. Somebody’s gotta say it. At least he manned up and said it. Good for him. I love Snell. The guy’s a beast -- one of the best lefties in the game.”
Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that “I think he was being honest, just being real. He made a lot of good points. There are some points he made that were true, that are facts. A lot of it gets misperceived. Trying to get the public to understand us, it’s not going to work very well in our favor.”
Snell’s inelegant delivery of his message through his unorthodox medium will not publicly help the players’ cause in a financial battle with the owners that was not supposed to come to a head until the current collective bargaining agreement expired after next season.
Nobody wants to hear that the players are willing to play but only if they get the money they believe they are entitled. That means they are willing to risk their health for a price, and it’s a message that falls flat in the best of times but even more so when so many people are unemployed and so many others are risking their lives just to be able to pay their bills.
That does not mean the owners are the good guys here. Manfred was asked Thursday night about the economic impact of a lost baseball season.
“The economic affects are devastating, frankly, for the clubs,” the commissioner said. “We’re a big business, but we’re a seasonal business. Unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of a low point for us in terms of revenue. We had not started our season yet and if we don’t play the season, the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion.”
Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the two hosts of the CNN interview with Manfred, both gasped at the number.
“That’s incredible,” Cooper said.
Actually, there’s no way of knowing if it’s even credible. MLB, thanks to an antitrust agreement with the federal government, has never opened its books to the public or the players union. So it’s impossible to know if it is true, as Manfred has claimed, that 40% of the team revenues comes from attendance. Forbes reported that baseball had $10.5 billion in revenue last season and that 31.5% came from attendance. Only Manfred and the owners know for sure, which is why their financial arguments with the players union have always been so weak.
The problem for Snell and his supporters is that they have made this a financial fight rather than a health and welfare issue. There’s no reason to doubt Manfred’s sincerity about wanting the environment to be as safe as possible if and when the season begins.
“We have developed extensive protocols,” Manfred said. “A key to those is frequent testing. All of our players would be tested multiple times a week … to determine if they have the virus. That testing would be supplemented less frequently by antibody testing as well. We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it is safe to return to work. The health-related protocols to return to play are about 80 pages in length.
"At the end of the day, however, if there are players with health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never force them or try to force them to try to come back to work. They can wait until they feel they are ready to come.”
Would they be paid? That question was not asked.
Manfred was, however, asked about the potential battle with the players over money.
“I think whenever there is a discussion about economics … people tend to characterize it as a fight,” Manfred said. “Me, personally, I have great confidence that we’ll reach an agreement with the players association both that it’s safe to come back to work and that we can work out the economic issues that need to be resolved.”