The distance between 60 and 70, apparently, is a world apart in the twisted universe of Major League Baseball.
The MLB Players Association announced Friday night that it received word from its partners/enemies on the other side of the aisle that there would be no more going back and forth on the amount of regular-season games in the 2020 restart negotiations. Most recently, on Thursday, the PA had proposed a 70-game schedule after commissioner Rob Manfred had discussed a 60-game calendar during an in-person meeting with PA executive director Tony Clark.
“MLB has informed the Association that it will not respond to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games,” the PA’s statement read. “Our Executive Board will convene in the near future to determine next steps. Importantly, Players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”
In these ceaselessly bizarre and Byzantine negotiations, this went down as a run-of-the-mill day at the office. Up next, MLB can unilaterally implement a schedule, as is its right as long as the players get their prorated pay; Manfred can cancel the season altogether, which might happen anyway thanks to the rising coronavirus numbers in important baseball states like Arizona (where the Giants closed their complex), Florida (where the Phillies and Blue Jays closed their complexes) and Texas; or the owners can relent and make another counter.
Or the players, if they were so inclined, however unlikely it sounds, could relent on their 70-game proposal.
Normal humans might suggest that getting down to 70 games and 60 on the other side invites compromise at, just to pull a number out of thin air, 65 games. However, Manfred and Clark parted ways Tuesday with dramatically different notions of what they were discussing. While Manfred quickly proclaimed Wednesday that the 60-game concept was “a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement,” Clark offered no reciprocal take. On Thursday, Clark released two statements, the latter divulging that Manfred “invited a counterproposal for more games that he would take back to the owners.”
Manfred, in response to that, said to the Associated Press, “I told [Clark] 70 games was simply impossible given the calendar and the public health situation, and he went ahead and made that proposal anyway.”
Hence the owner fury that resulted from what is numerically a rather mild disagreement. Hence Manfred’s telling Clark that, like Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” he’s got nowhere else to go.
While unilateral implementation would end this painfully protracted back and forth, it would hardly alleviate MLB’s pain. An expanded playoffs, which would bring essential, additional revenue, can’t happen without the players’ blessing, and without a collectively bargained agreement, the players would retain their right to file a grievance against the owners for negotiating in bad faith. Of course, the owners could file an identical grievance against the players.
Since Manfred prides himself on coming to agreement with the players — he wouldn’t even unilaterally implement pitch clocks when he possessed the legal right to do so — the unilateral implementation remains a nuclear option for him. At the moment, though, the owners have pulled a Roberto Duran (according to the legend, at least) and exclaimed, “No mas!” No more games, and no more offers.