MLB commissioner Rob Manfred guarantees 2020 season

Rob Manfred pulled a Joe Namath on Wednesday.

With his sport dragged down by an ugly battle over dollars, the Major League Baseball commissioner assured the game’s remaining fans that they’ll get their fix soon enough.

“We’re going to play baseball in 2020. One-hundred percent” Manfred told the MLB Network’s Tom Verducci, shortly before baseball’s annual amateur draft. “If it has to be under the March 26 agreement, if we get to that point in the calendar, so be it. But one way or the other, we’re playing Major League Baseball.”

That March 26 agreement, completed on what was supposed to be Opening Day before COVID-19 messed up everyone’s plans, gave the commissioner the right to unilaterally call for a season of any length as long as the players receive their prorated salaries. In discussions with his MLB Players Association counterpart Tony Clark, Manfred has floated the idea of scheduling a season as thin as 50-or-so games, contending that his owners can’t afford to play any more contests without paying fans while giving players their full daily income.

Since the March deal also mentions a good-faith commitment to play as many games as possible, the union could file a grievance if it believes that commitment has not been honored.

However, for all the turbulence Manfred has encountered with the PA during his time as commissioner, he greatly prefers to find common ground. To that end, he said on Wednesday, “I remain committed to the idea that the best thing for our sport is to reach a negotiated agreement with the MLBPA that plays as many games as possible for our fans.”

The PA tendered the most recent proposal, an 89-game regular-season schedule with full prorated pay that would conclude on Oct. 11 and therefore extend the playoffs through November, on Tuesday. Manfred said, “We will be making a response to the proposal. We’ll make a counterproposal shortly. It will be a proposal that once again moves in the players’ direction in terms of the salary issue, and we’re hoping it’s a proposal that will elicit reciprocal movement from the players’ side, that they’ll get off the 100-percent salary demand and recognize that 89 games in this point in the calendar and in a pandemic is just not realistic.”

Rob ManfredAP

MLB’s previous two offers actually were pretty similar to one another, with different presentations of near-identical sums — and both of those resemble the numbers of a 50ish-game season at prorated pay.

Asked why an 89-game season isn’t realistic, Manfred said, “The primary reason is our medical experts are telling us we should be finishing earlier, not later, because of the risk of a second wave of the pandemic. I think you also have to take the logistics into account. We have commitments to our broadcast partners to provide content at particular points in the calendar, and just up and deciding we’re going to provide it two weeks later is problematic.”

Manfred added: “I don’t want to be responsible for the additional health risk with going later in the fall. The risk to not completing the season. The disaster that that would be. I think the most prudent course for everyone is to follow the advice of the experts on this one.” Notably, coronavirus numbers are currently spiking in important baseball states like Arizona, California and Texas.

As for the other medical situation, the safety-and-health regulations that will cover having a baseball season during a pandemic, Manfred said, “We’re very, very close on the medical protocols. We provided the MLBPA with our last proposal a comprehensive response to all of the comments that they gave us on the health protocols. We agreed or made a responsive suggestion to each and every issue they raised and I believe we really are close on those issues.”

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