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MLB players’ union rejects proposal, asks ‘when and where’ to begin season

Players told MLB additional talks to start the season during the coronavirus pandemic are futile and said owners should order a return to work, which likely would spark lengthy litigation and the sport’s return to labor wars.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks with the Brewers’ Christian Yelich before the National League wild-card game Oct. 1, 2019.
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When and where?

For the MLB players’ union, it has boiled down to that.

The players are done with what they call “futile” negotiations with the league. They’ve had enough of frustrating — and alienating — fans with a keen inability to get things done and clear a path once and for all to a 2020 season.

On a Saturday night that heated up in a hurry, the MLB Players Association rejected the league’s latest economic proposal to start the season and made it clear it will not counter. In a letter to the league, the union demanded MLB let it know how many games will be played and when players should report.

If owners want to keep crying poor, fine. If they refuse to pay salaries at 100% pro rata for a respectable number of games played, so be it.

For now.

“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said Saturday in a statement. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

MLB responded with: “We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play. . . . We will evaluate the union’s refusal to adhere to the terms of the March agreement, and after consulting with ownership, determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans.”

So there will be baseball this season. Hear that, Cubs and White Sox fans? In some form or fashion — perhaps as few as 48-50 games, with no expanded playoffs — there will be baseball.

But the players won’t be happy about the terms they’re playing under. And — the scary part — a bigger, longer, more contentious dispute between management and the union could be just around the corner.

MLB offered players 80% of their prorated salaries and a 72-game schedule beginning July 14 in an effort to start the pandemic-delayed season, according to details of the proposal obtained by the Associated Press. Players would get 70% of their prorated salaries during the regular season and the rest for completion of the postseason under MLB’s plan, given to the union Friday.

But reduced prorated pay has been a non-starter for the union since talks reopened, and the owners have made it a part of each proposal. The union first proposed 114 games and since has come down to as few as 89.

“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,” Clark said in the statement. “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.’’

And there’s what could be the key to it all — the television rights.

A couple of hours before the MLBPA released Clark’s statement, the New York Post reported that the league had reached a new billion-dollar deal with Turner Sports to keep a package that includes one of the league championship series on the network. The annual payout likely will be far higher than it is under the current deal, which ends in 2021.

Don’t forget, too, that MLB is looking into expanding its postseason. More playoff games could mean more networks bidding against one another, driving up revenues dramatically.

Guess who will want a big chunk of that? Yes, the players. Their collective bargaining agreement with the league — reached in March, before either side knew empty ballparks would be a reality once play starts — runs through 2021.

The fight then between the sides could be — to borrow a word from Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts — biblical.