Union responds to MLB: ‘Players want to play’

The players have had it.

After weeks of unproductive back and forth did nothing but define each side’s entrenched positions, MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark flatly rejected Saturday the latest proposal from MLB, calling for a 72-game season for less than prorated pay.

The players’ union offered no counterproposal as it had twice previously, seemingly resigned to an abbreviated season mandated by commissioner Rob Manfred.

“Players want to play. It’s who we are and what we do,” Clark began a statement responding to ownership’s proposal and offering no counter.

“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

Over the past weeks, the two sides have offered very different views of what a 2020 season could look like. Owners maintain they will lose money on regular-season games played without fans in attendance and have demanded players take paycuts to help them absorb the losses while keeping an eye on the prize — postseason TV revenue.

Players maintain they have already sacrificed by agreeing to prorated pay for an abbreviated regular season and have sought to play as many regular-season games as possible — even offering to pad the schedule with doubleheaders and extend the postseason into November — under the restrictive conditions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

This weekend’s exchange — including a biting letter from MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem to MLBPA’s lead negotiator Bruce Meyer on Friday — makes the likely outcome fairly clear. Ownership maintains it can mandate a shortened season (48 to 55 games for which the players would be due full prorated pay). The union has positioned itself to file a grievance that ownership had not negotiated in good faith should Manfred go that route.

“Since March, the Association has made it clear that our No.1 focus is playing the fullest season possible, as soon as possible, as safely as possible,” Clark said in his statement Saturday. “Players agreed to billions in monetary concessions as a means to that end, and in the face of repeated media leaks and misdirection we made additional proposals to inject new revenues into the industry – proposals that would benefit the owners, players, broadcast partners, and fans alike.

“It’s now become apparent that these efforts have fallen upon deaf ears. In recent days, owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the Commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless players agree to hundreds of millions in further concessions. Our response has been consistent that such concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible. These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB’s national television rights – information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.”

Clark’s response came shortly after reports that MLB had reached a $1 billion deal with Turner Sports to air future postseason games (following the expiration of the current TV deal in 2021). That would represent a 40% increase for MLB teams.

Also Saturday, Meyer reportedly responded to Halem’s letter with one of his own, accusing MLB of “underhanded tactics to circumvent the union” and listing examples of what the union considers bad-faith negotiating by MLB.

“It is unfair to leave players and the fans hanging at this point, and further delay risks compromising health and safety,” Meyer wrote. “We demand that you inform us of your plans by close of business on Monday, June 15.”

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