Major League Baseball and its players union are locked in a bitter dispute over pay that is threatening efforts to begin a shortened season months after the coronavirus outbreak forced a halt to the national pastime.
As part of plan to begin playing games by the July 4 holiday weekend, if the health crisis allows, league owners have proposed a sliding scale of salary cuts for players under which top earners would suffer bigger losses, according to people briefed on the matter.
The MLB Players Association, which agreed to pay cuts in March when the teams were already training, this week rejected the proposal for a sliding scale, these people said, threatening plans to start a shortened season without spectators and potentially costing teams billions in lost revenues.
“We made a proposal to the union that is completely consistent with the economic realities facing our sport. We look forward to a responsive proposal from the union,” MLB said in a statement to the Financial Times.
The inability of the league and the players to reach a deal comes as other sports in the US, Europe and Asia have started or announced plans to restart their leagues in recent weeks.
The National Hockey League became the largest professional sports league in the US to announce a return on Tuesday, while on Thursday English football’s Premier League said it planned to restart the season on June 17. The National Basketball Association, which interrupted the season in March, is in talks with Walt Disney to resume games at the company’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.
Baseball and other leagues face pressure from fans and politicians alike to return to action. “We want to get sports back,” President Donald Trump said in a recent interview on NBC. “We need sports in terms of the psyche of our country.”
Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, said this week professional sports could return to the state without fans in the stands. “Do it,” he implored. In Texas, governor Greg Abbott issued an order on Thursday allowing fans to attend outdoor sporting events as long as capacity is limited to 25 per cent.
Under the baseball owners’ proposal, New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, one of the league’s best paid players, would see his $36m salary drop to about $8m, according to some reported estimates. Mr Cole’s teammate Kyle Higashioka, who earns $579,200, would see his pay fall to $269,300.
MLB owners believe such pay cuts are needed to compensate for a sharp drop in income due to the pandemic. Revenues from sponsorship deals and television rights have been halved.
Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, one of eight players on the baseball union’s executive subcommittee, said on Twitter on Wednesday night that “there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions”.
“We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a second pay cut based on the current information the union has received,” he said.
The league has offered to run an 82-game season starting in July, with most teams playing in their home stadiums, said a person briefed about the matter. Club owners approved the plan, which would also expand the postseason to 14 teams from the usual 10 and limit travel by setting up a schedule based on geography rather than the traditional league structure.