MLB encouraged Arizona mayors to ask for spring-training delay, to pressure players to take pay cut

The story of how a bunch of Arizona elected officials asked for MLB to delay the start of spring training because Covid and then took it back after the players’ union rejected the idea isn’t over yet, as it turns out that MLB apparently asked the cities to make the demand, as part of a scheme to put pressure on the players to take salary cuts in exchange for safety. The Athletic uncovered the story (according to “people with direct knowledge”), but they’re paywalled, so let’s turn to excerpts in Marc Normandin’s summary instead:

“Basically, the position that the league stated on the call was that they were open to delaying and that the players were not,” one source said. “And that a document like the letter may help push negotiations along and allow what you guys would like, which is a 30-day delay.”

“The representative was very direct,” another source added. “They believe it is time to push off spring training for a month, but they’re having problems with the players because a change would be necessary to the CBA for that to happen. He supported a letter to put pressure on players to push back spring training, a full month.”

Well then! There’s nothing illegal in all this — all’s fair in love and hardball labor negotiations — but it’s certainly skeezy to pressure a bunch of mayors into helping you extract concessions from your employees under threat of a deadly disease. And this is very much about the money, not about safety, as I discussed here yesterday and as Normandin makes clear:

MLB wants to delay the start of the 2021 season, because they want to make sure the games have fans in attendance. They’ve been in full-on collective bargaining mode for some time now, so they have to roll with the narrative that they’re losing money without fans, even if it means pressuring the Cactus League into requesting that MLB delays the start of spring training, a shift in schedule which would then bleed into the regular season…

MLB knows they do not have any grounds to suspend contracts or reschedule the start of the season without a local or federal ordinance prohibiting them from starting spring training or the regular season, so they’ll suddenly become very concerned with coronavirus and its potential spread when they can leverage that concern to get what they want. Which is itself laughable considering they already pushed through fans in the postseason and World Series last year with a “well, let’s see what happens” attitude, and then didn’t bother to follow up on whether they actually managed to not be a superspreader.

In other words, in the absence of more government stay-at-home orders that prohibit even fan-less games, it’s likely to be full speed ahead with the baseball season so long as shortening it might cost anyone any money. Which is to be expected, since that’s pretty much how all sports has gone so far, though that’s not without potential costs either: If starting the baseball season on time means more virus spread, which means it takes longer to get the pandemic under control as vaccines are rolled out, which means longer lockdowns and more economic damage and, oh yeah, more people getting sick and dying, that’s a cost to everyone, not just baseball owners or players. Externalities are a bitch.

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