MLB vs. COVID: The Path to a Season

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (no offense to Patrick Star), you have heard the MLB owners have approved their latest offering to resume play for baseball. Despite a clever “leak” to sway public perception that the owners are in fact the good guys, it still seems to be a 50/50 split when it comes to who’s in favor and who’s not regarding this latest proposal.

The latest proposal basically further diminishes the players’ pay after they have already agreed to a prorated salary back in March by offering a 50 percent share of revenue instead. Obviously, players have rebuked this notion because revenue is going to be down quite a bit — especially when fans cannot attend the games, therefore making any revenue likely much less than a prorated contract. I’m no economist, but it’s common sense that you cannot make money when you cannot sell your product. In this sense, it’s easy to grow frustrated with the owners and side with the players. It would seem then that the easiest measure would be to return to the prorated contracts they agreed upon back in March, right? Well … not really.

The MLB Players Union — unlike the NBA, NFL, or NHL — is in a league of its own when considering the CBA structure it adheres too. For over 50 years, the MLBPA has successfully thwarted anything resembling a salary cap or revenue sharing resulting in almost unchecked salary growth. This is why players like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper can cash in on contracts they do not necessarily deserve. There is no “max” contract similar to basketball. There is a number that can grow exponentially that is dictated by demand for any given player.

Basically, baseball is the best example of a free market in sports and it has been for a while now. It’s easy then, to see why players are balking at the idea of uprooting the CBA to make less money. In 1994, the owners tried to similarly implement revenue sharing. The players stayed strong and it cost the league a World Series. The argument was very black and white in ‘94, but the main difference today is not due entirely to greed, but also due to the effects of some pandemic that has put the entire world in a standstill, which leads to the elephant in the room; the virus.

COVID Effect

Now, let me be crystal clear; I realize that this virus is highly contagious and has claimed a lot of lives when it comes to the confirmed cases the world has counted, so please do not offer a straw-man argument like Jon Heyman:

To reiterate; nobody, including me, is wishing anyone to get sick. For some context, Jon was being snarky and self-indulgent by calling out Mark Teixeira for urging players to take the deal from the owners and play for less money. I agree with Teixeira’s sentiment that players should want to play. I agree that professional sports at a time like this would be an immense relief for everyone who is looking for some semblance of hope. This does not mean I agree with how Tex stated his opinion. It’s also somewhat strange for someone like Jon Heyman, who has a networth of $8M for covering the sport in question, is virtue-signaling. We get it Jon, you’re at the top of the food chain compared to the median income of the average American (about $63K for context) and I guess it gets lost on you that over 37 million people are out of work. Maybe sit this one out.

There have been comments made by the league’s top players who are for and against the idea of playing and that is fine; nobody is saying you cannot express an opinion one way or the other. However, if you disagree with an opinion feel free to back it up — looking at you Jon! Sean Doolittle’s main objection appears to be focused on the health protocols that would need to be in place which is blatantly obvious.

The MLB recently announced they are planning on converting a lab used to test for PED’s into a COVID-19 testing facility to address this. I have no way of knowing if this satisfies Doolittle’s objection around health and safety measures, but I would assume that MLB will look into options that ethically and sufficiently address this.

Some players, however, are not making the most crystal-clear arguments. Blake Snell decided to vent his frustrations around the money aspect of the proposal while on Twitch. He’s not alone in this at all. In fact, Bryce Harper has similarly said he wants what’s owed to him. However, Snell then deflects and offers that he is risking his life and the prorated salaries do not illustrate appropriate hazard pay. Using the virus as a shield to deflect from the fact that they are obviously hung up on the money situation is, in my own humble opinion, not a strong argument. For starters, a recent study from Health Affairs has stated that there is a “1.3% rate calculation based on cumulative deaths and detected cases across the United States, but it does not account for undetected cases, where a person is infected but shows few or no symptoms, according to researcher Anirban Basu. If those cases were added into the equation, the overall death rate might drop closer to 1%, Basu said.”

Again, I want to reiterate, I am not saying this virus is a hoax or anything of the kind, but after more and more studies are being done, it’s proving that the virus is not the death sentence we are led to believe. Now, I’m sure Snell was too busy “droppin’ in with the boys” on Warzone every night to do his own research, but if a 1.3 percent chance of dying is risking your life, then you might want to second-guess ever driving a car again, because every time you drive you are “risking your life”. I can be sympathetic to Snell in regards to his salary versus someone like Bryce Harper, and if that’s his main argument then sure, Blake, you should feel slighted when it comes to your pay. 

However, what seems to get lost in all of this debate around the proposal to start up is the recent study MLB just concluded on antibody testing. The results showed that .7 percent of the 5,754 people tested were positive for antibodies. You can interpret the data any way you like. Detractors will say the number is not high enough for those who show antibodies. Proponents argue that such a low rate also infers a low rate were infected to begin with.

Either way you interpret it, it’s clear that baseball is taking the correct steps to shed more light on the virus and as a result they have a better understanding of it when making any decisions about starting the league up. The beauty of any data is that players, coaches, and owners should be able to make their own personal and respective decisions on if they want to resume or not.

What gets lost in this is that the majority of the league wants to resume play and it far outweighs those who don’t. For those who don’t, it is their right to decide if they want to or not. Some players are at higher risk with underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and other conditions and I totally support their individual decisions to forgo playing.

My conclusion is this. There is no winner in this proposal if this does indeed go through, but only losers if it doesn’t. Not every team is built equally. The Yankees and the Rays obviously are far apart when it comes to payroll. Not every player is paid equally or equally healthy.

The one constant they seem to forget in all of this is the fans. I do not want to sound sanctimonious, but the fans are what fuels any league. Without fans — pandemic or not — there is no revenue, there is no massive contract, and there are certainly no games. The pandemic has thrown you a curveball and it’s time to work together to get this done for your fans.

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