CHICAGO – Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that Major League Baseball owners have not yet decided to fire players if there is no new labor agreement after December 1 from the existing one, but he highlighted the folly of not doing so in 1994 that led to a disruptive strike and added that “An informal shutdown that pushes the process forward is different from a labor conflict that costs games.”
“I don’t think 1994 was too great for anyone,” Manfred told reporters as the quarterly owners’ meetings concluded. “I think we need to look at other sports. The pattern has become to control the timing of the labor dispute and try to reduce the potential for actual disruption to the season. That’s what it’s about. It’s avoiding damage to the season.”
Labor conflict was the main focus of owners, team bosses and league executives who met less than two weeks before the deal expired – with little progress made toward a new deal. While the league and the MLB Players Association meet frequently — they had a negotiating session on Wednesday, Manfred said, and are due to take place another Friday — they are still far from agreement, having made limited progress on key economic issues.
“We understand, I understand, that time has become a problem,” Manfred said. “This is a challenge. We’ve had challenges in terms of working agreements before, and we have a very good track record of overcoming these challenges. I can tell you from the clubs’ perspective, we are committed to continuing to make proposals and suggestions in an effort to reach an agreement before December 1st. “.
The MLB’s 26-year labor peace streak – which came on the heels of the 1994 strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series – is in jeopardy after a rocky five-year streak during which players were outraged by the average salary in the sport as pre-COVID revenue soared. -19.
The federation has pursued a wide range of changes, from raising the competitive balance tax threshold to pushing more young players to discouraging loss by penalizing teams that currently benefit from doing so with high draft picks. The league, which is seeking to expand playoffs and other changes on the field, presented a basic economic proposal in August that the federation rejected outright as unsatisfactory.
And the chasm between the two parties became public during negotiations on how to shape the 2020 season, which were delayed for months at the start of the pandemic. After multiple proposals in both directions and belated attempts to strike a deal, Manfred, as was his due from the March agreement between the two sides, imposed a 60-game season.
“I think the focus on 2020 was excessive,” Manfred said. “I’ve been in charge of working in this industry since 1998. And every time, I’ve found a way, and we’ve found a way, to make a deal and keep the game on the court. – term negotiations in the middle of the pandemic crisis – I just don’t put that heavy weight on it. Like I said “We’ve been through very difficult situations in the past. We’ve found our way through them. We have great people. I think we’ll find our way through this too.”
“We never allow personalities or what has happened in the past to influence our pursuit of the primary goal,” he added. “This is to come to an agreement. I consider that to be an essential aspect of being professional when it comes to being a labor negotiator. I really do it. And I know this applies across the board with respect to the people involved in the process – at least on our part.”
Manfred declined to speak specifically about the negotiations, saying they would not be “helpful to the process for the time being.” “I think the best thing for clubs and fans is to do everything that is humanly possible to come to an agreement,” he said, adding, “I have left a good job with a very good future to try to take this industry to a point where we can make deals without labor disputes. I don’t think there is Anyone who understands anything better than I do from a fan’s point of view, they don’t want a labor dispute, which is why our first priority is to make a deal.”
Among other topics covered at the owners meetings:
• The adoption of the pitch clock in major league matches appears increasingly inevitable after a presentation by the league’s competition committee highlighted how it reduced more than 20 minutes of matches while increasing the offense.
“The field timing experience in the Cal League has kept the owners very interested because of the success, and frankly, we saw some of the same results in the Arizona Fall League,” Manfred said.
• Fear of financial problems with regional sports networks seeping into teams that rely heavily on local television funds has grown significantly within the sport and has been a talking point among owners at meetings.
“We see what’s happening with RSNs as a problem that needs solving but an opportunity that also needs to be seized,” Manfred said. And the clubs [are] We really support aggressive action to make sure we reach our fans in the most effective way.”
• The Tampa Bay Rays submitted a proposal to the league’s powerful Executive Committee on a city zoning plan that would spend half of the season at Tampa-St. Petersburg region and the other half in Montreal. Manfred said the board had not made a decision on its viability “because of other business journalism. It’s a complex subject.”
• Oakland Athletics continues to consider Las Vegas for a potential transfer while following a concurrent path toward remaining in Oakland with a new stadium.
“If the industry can speak, I think the industry is satisfied with the effort that both places are putting in,” Manfred said.
• Manfred was open to the possibility of using prepackaged baseball as soon as next season after the league began enforcing foreign substance rules in the middle of the 2021 season.
“I think we’ll go so far that there will actually be, I hope, a live test in spring training,” he said. “We might be in a position to use a new ball next year. It might be ’23 instead, but we’re continuing to work on this project and we’ve made real progress. The trick is cliched but not so cliched that it’s Spider-Tac.”
• After the meeting on diversity, equality, and inclusion, Manfred said he plans to empower Michael Hill and Tony Riggins – two former black general managers who now work in the league – to drive initiatives in a league whose ownership and executive rank is almost exclusively composed of white men. Since he hasn’t run a team himself, Manfred said, “There’s a little credibility gap at some point, and I’ve got two great guys that I think can be really helpful in this.”
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