4 things Rob Manfred could have done to avoid this MLB mess

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visits "Mornings With Maria" with Maria Bartiromo at Fox Business Network Studios on December 18, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visits "Mornings With Maria" with Maria Bartiromo at Fox Business Network Studios on December 18, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images) /

Well, here we are. Three months after Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred declared that cancelling games would be “catastrophic,” he and MLB has done just that. We could get in the weeds about whether the luxury tax threshold should be $220 million or $223 million, and we could count up what percentage of the billions in new revenue that MLB will rake in over the next decade will be spent on raising the minimum salary from $670,000 to $700,000.

Others have already done that, so we won’t waste your time. What we will do is make absolutely certain that you never forget one thing: This is Rob Manfred’s lockout.

The “catastrophic” failure that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred referenced when he imposed the lockout is his and his alone.

Nothing he might do between now and the end of his professional career can make up for the fact that there will not be Major League Baseball on March 31. It is his fault, and his alone. This is his legacy.

Let’s look at the ways Rob Manfred could have avoided this:

  1. He could have made a good faith offer sooner. The owners basically started the lockout by saying they wanted to maintain the status quo, then waited until spring training was scheduled to begin before they negotiated with any sincerity. Nobody knows for sure whether starting this process a couple of days sooner would have avoided the bad news of March 1, but, given the level of progress in the past several days, it stands to reason that 10 days of negotiations would have been better than nine, and 11 would have been better than 10.
  2. He could have proposed some sort of structural change that protects small market teams without cutting salaries. The current financial structure of the game is a mess, and most of the changes that have been proposed have been like putting lipstick on a pig. There were enough smart people at the negotiating table that someone should have been able to think outside the box and come up with a structure that pays players a reasonable share of the revenues that they are responsible for generating, while also making sure that small-market teams can keep their best players. The failure to do so is a huge opportunity lost.
  3. He could have stopped treating the players like the enemy. Manfred made it clear from the start that he preferred stomping the union into submission to collaborating with it to improve the game. Granted, Manfred is doing the bidding of his bosses, the owners, but his public pronouncements have seemed designed to rankle, and his negotiating tactics have treated this like a zero-sum game, where the only successful outcome form his point of view was to keep as much money as possible away from the players.
  4. Finally, Manfred could have simply not locked the players out. At any point in this process, he could have said, let’s start spring training and keep negotiating. That would have been a signal that the welfare of the game, and its place in American culture, is more important than gaining a little leverage in negotiations. Manfred chose not to take that path, which leaves us where we are today, with a catastrophe of his making.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks, it is important to remember that all this was his choice.

Next. Will the 2022 season have an asterisk attached to it?. dark

It is impossible to even guess how much damage this will do to the game, which was losing television ratings already. Lest we forget, the last time games were cancelled for a significant period, owners decided to rebuild baseball’s popularity by looking the other way while steroid use became rampant.  Given the cynicism that the owners have demonstrated about crucial issues impacting the game over the past decade, who knows how they will respond when this is over?