MLB is Back, Now What?

After three months of unsuccessful negotiations, Major League Baseball decided to use the right granted to it by the players association and owners per a March 26 agreement to impose a schedule of its own choosing. The league opted to create a 60-game season. The owners voted to carry out the 60-game season this past Monday. This vote came hours after the players association rejected the owners’ 60-game proposal by a vote of 33-5. However, on Tuesday, the players agreed to the 60-game season put forward by MLB. There was tension because the owners had asked the players to respond by a 5 p.m. (eastern) deadline. The owners wanted to know whether the players could be at spring training by July 1 and if they would sign off on a health-and-safety protocol. This deadline passed without the players responding to both queries. Finally, the players answered affirmatively to both on Tuesday evening.

With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 season, this moment provided insight into both sides’ mindset. Because of the COVID pandemic, games will be played without fans for the foreseeable future. The owners argued for a shorter season because they believed they would be operating games at a loss due to no sales of tickets, concessions and team merchandise. The players wanted a longer season because they agreed to a prorated salary in the agreement from March 26. The two parties were at loggerheads over these issues. Thus, Major League Baseball stepped in.

Now that there is a temporary respite in the labor dispute, how will this season look?

For starters, teams will meet at their respective stadiums for spring training. Previously, MLB held spring training in Arizona and Florida. The regular season is scheduled to start on July 23 or 24. Each team will play its division rivals 10 times for a total of 40 games. For the remaining 20 games, teams will play their geographic counterparts (e.g., the AL Central teams will play the NL Central teams). Although an expanded postseason had been considered, it will remain at 10 teams.

The players will receive a prorated share of their salaries, which is 37% of their full-season salaries. Players will not receive forgiveness on the $170 million advance they received as part of the March agreement. Further, they will get no money from the postseason. On-field microphones and advertising patches on uniforms were considered for this season, but the players will not be wearing them.

The biggest changes affecting play are the implementation of a universal designated hitter (DH) rule and a modification to extra innings that will allow teams to start with a runner on second at the start of each inning. The thinking behind the universal DH is that using a DH will help maintain pitcher health and aid managers in controlling their starters’ workload. Further, this rule will allow additional players to get more consistent at-bats. The purpose behind allowing a runner to be on second in extra-innings is to quicken the end of a game, avoiding marathon extra-inning affairs. According to Baseball America, this rule has been successful in the minors where more than 70% of extra-inning games have been resolved after a single inning during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In the previous two seasons, this had been the case only 45% of the time.

Although the possibility remains for grievances to be filed by either party, it looks like there will be baseball this season. One has to wonder how baseball ratings will fare with the increased competition presented by the NBA and NHL. There is further competition abroad as many of the world’s top-flight soccer leagues will be playing during a time when MLB typically has a near-monopoly on the world of team sports. Fans, players and owners alike will learn soon enough how all these issues will unfold.

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