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MLB players continue squabbling over million dollar paychecks as 2020 season may never get off ground

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Major League Baseball officials and union representatives continued to disagree over player salaries on Saturday, as a 2020 season already dramatically shortened by the coronavirus pandemic is in jeopardy of becoming a complete wash.

Fox News reported that players have told MLB officials that it is pointless to continue negotiations to begin the season and that owners should order them to return to work immediately, which would in all likelihood spark a lengthy litigation process and a return to labor disputes.

The Saturday evening action by the union could lead to an abbreviated season of about 50 games instead of 82 initially proposed by the league. The Major League Baseball Players Association could now respond with a grievance claiming players are owed hundreds of millions of dollars in damages that would be heard by arbitrator Mark Irvings.

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

MLB officials did not immediately respond to the players association.

Ballparks have been empty and baseball idle all spring as the MLB, like other professional and college sports leagues, shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. But now that the disease is waning and states are reopening, players want to get back on the field and get their season started.

But as is often the case, now the issue is about money.

Both players and the league agreed to a payment deal March 26 which called for prorated salaries. The deal gave baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred the authority to begin the season provided there weren’t any travel restrictions due to COVID-19 and games could be held in front of fans in regular-season stadiums. The deal also called for “good faith” talks to play at neutral sites or in empty ballparks.

Now, though, players say they should not have to accept further pay cuts, even as the season continues to shorten each day they remain off the field.

The league has proposed three economic packages — the last one on Friday — and the players union has responded with two of its own. But, as Fox News noted, both sides are still far apart on how much of the $4 billion in salaries players were originally supposed to receive had the season begun on time.

MLB has made a guaranteed offer of $1.27 billion but pledged to boost that figure to $1.45 billion if the postseason is played in its entirety. But players are demanding $2.25 billion.

“Players want to play. It’s who we are and what we do,” Clark said, according to Fox News. “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.

“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,” Clark continued.

Now it’s up to owners to decide if they want to go ahead with a season of 48-50 games. If they agree to a 50-game season at prorated salaries, the total payout would be $1.23 billion, leaving the players union to claim nearly $1 billion plus interest in damages if the case continues to an arbitration decision and players get a favorable ruling.

The March agreement stated that “each of the parties shall work in good faith to as soon as is practicable commence, play, and complete the fullest 2020 championship season and post-season that is economically feasible: consistent with the other provisions.”

Clark says players are trying to live up to that agreement but he doesn’t think owners or the league are.

“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.

“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,” he added.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opened his state to professional sports leagues in mid-May.

“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” he said at a news briefing in Tallahassee. “Now we’re not necessarily going to have fans, but there’s been reports that Major League Soccer may want to have their season in Orlando. Do it. We want to have you here. We want to have basketball practicing again. We’d love to have the Major League Baseball.”

Jon Dougherty

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