fb-pixel Skip to main content
tara sullivan

This baseball standoff foreshadows disaster for years to come

Major league dugouts, like this one in Seattle, remain empty.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

A quick search on the concept of credibility defines it as “the quality of being trusted and believed in.”

Rob Manfred should look it up.

Five short days after saying, “We’re going to play baseball in 2020, one hundred percent,” Major League Baseball’s clueless commissioner completely contradicted himself in an ESPN Radio interview, admitting Monday, “I can’t tell you that I’m 100 percent certain that’s going to happen.”

From all to nothing in 120 hours? Please. This has been the owners’ ploy all along. With baseball hanging in the balance, on goes this dangerous game of chicken, one that threatens to push the game directly past the edge of irrelevance it was teetering on and right into an abyss of extinction. Never mind saving the shreds of a truncated 2020 season, which at this point feels ruined even if it does happen. The immediate threat to the game is dire enough, but even worse is what this standoff portends for the future.

Manfred should be embarrassed, almost as much as the owners who employ him. But the longer this ridiculous standoff continues, the more obvious it gets that the owners have no shame when it comes to forcing their will upon the players, that they had no good faith intention to play as many games as possible in the wake of a pandemic pause, that their plan was always to stall, delay and pout until the 50-something game season they’ve wanted from the start was the only viable option remaining.


It's been a rough stretch for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.Rob Carr

Yes, this fight has been ugly all along. Yes, it was the players who walked away over the weekend in a petulant huff, kicking over the game board on the way out. But as much as the owners initially played the victim to the union’s willingness to walk away from negotiations and let Manfred dictate the terms of play, as much as they were “Shocked! Shocked!” anyone could aggrieve them so badly, Monday’s message through Manfred took this to a new low. They are more worried about losing (and paying for) a grievance than they are willing to pay higher salaries. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.


And yet, we are reminded there are no heroes here. Baseball is backed into a corner and running out of room, and the positioning of the two sides in this negotiating cesspool is truly troubling. Back to back and walking away, they are twin stalwarts of stubbornness, and with every new step they take in opposite directions, with every additional foot of barren conversational landscape they carve between them, they are foreshadowing disaster for years to come.

If they can’t talk now, in the middle of the pandemic, how will they ever find common ground?

The further apart they get, the more damage they do to a future beyond a labor agreement set to expire Dec. 1, 2021. And they’ve never been further apart than on June 15, 2020.

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again, and we’ll continue to say it until rationality rises above this rancor: Shame on you, baseball. Shame on you for digging in with greed when the rest of the country is digging out from under. Shame on you for toying with the devotion of fans who want so much to believe you care about them, only to be bashed over the head yet again that they are merely an afterthought to profits.


The villains are on both sides.

Players who clung to a misguided belief their original prorated salary agreement was untouchable, even though it was reached before it became clear the absence of fans would impact revenue. Owners who disguised counterproposals as better deals for the players, even though every single one of them amounted to the same total layout of regular season salary money. Players who don’t want to consider how high that lost revenue will be. Owners who are tone deaf enough to think the new $470 million a year they just inked with Turner Sports wouldn’t make them look like ridiculous liars when they claim they can’t make a profit.

Will we see any baseball at Fenway this year?Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/Aram Boghosian for The Boston Gl

We get it: Years of mistrust have built these fortresses. The baseball union, the most powerful in pro sports, doesn’t want to risk any concessions that could bleed into the next CBA negotiation. Baseball owners, who look at non-guaranteed contracts in the NFL with green-eyed envy, can’t help but see an opening to do exactly that. So where does it end?

What damage have they done already? There will be at least one more free agent cycle before the next CBA negotiations begin, the one that will include Mookie Betts. How do you think that will go now? The anger and obstinance of today could pale in comparison to tomorrow. Why can’t these people see that? How can they read the situation so wrongly?


The nation is moving from crisis to crisis, first by pandemic and then by social unrest, and yet these two camps continue to bicker, continue to snipe, continue to bargain through public insult and threat.

Imagine for a moment it was MLB players on that weekend call rather than NBA players, and word leaked out that one of the highest-paid stars was advocating not returning to play, the way Kyrie Irving reportedly did. Irving’s concerns, relating to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and whether or not the distraction of sports is right under these important times for the cause of social injustice, put quite a crimp in the NBA’s framework for return. But rather than lose all the progress made between the league and the players in setting up a Disney World bubble to host 22 teams through the playoffs, league spokesman Mike Bass said this to the Wall Street Journal:

How will fans respond once the game returns?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“We understand the players’ concerns and are working with the Players Association on finding the right balance to address them.”

Was that so hard?

The tenor of compromise and existence of inherent respect have been missing in the baseball discussion.

To wit:

Manfred on Monday: “I’m not confident. I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is going to continue.”

And the MLBPA in response: “This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. 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.”


In other words, we’re back against the wall, no solutions, no negotiations, no hope that reason will prevail. Never mind rescuing what’s left of a 2020 season, baseball is heading off a cliff forever.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.