Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN on Monday he is "not confident" that there will be a 2020 baseball season and that "as long as there's no dialogue" with the MLB Players Association, "that real risk is going to continue."
In a conversation with Mike Greenberg for ESPN's The Return of Sports special, Manfred walked back comments made to ESPN last week, when he said "unequivocally, we are going to play Major League Baseball this year" and pegged the likelihood at "100 percent."
"I'm not confident. I think there's real risk, and as long as there's no dialogue, that real risk is going to continue," Manfred said when asked if he is certain there will be a season.
The chance that there will be no season increased substantially on Monday, when the commissioner's office told the players' association that it will not proceed with a schedule unless the union waives its right to claim that management violated a March agreement between the feuding sides, a source told ESPN, confirming a report by the Los Angeles Times.
Manfred was asked what the talks are doing for the optics of MLB while the country has been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic and is only recently starting to reopen.
"It's just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn't be happening, and it's important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans," he said.
Manfred said the MLBPA's "decision to end good faith negotiations" and the need for an agreement with the union on health and safety protocols "were really negative in terms of our efforts."
"The owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, I can't tell you that I'm 100 percent certain that's gonna happen."
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark issued a statement on Monday in response to Manfred's comments that read, "Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told Players and fans that there would '100%' be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season. Any implication that the Players Association has somehow delayed progress on health and safety protocols is completely false, as Rob has recently acknowledged the parties are 'very, very close.'
"This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from Players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign."
On Saturday, the day after MLB delivered a return-to-play proposal that called for a 72-game season and guaranteed 70% of players' prorated salaries (with a maximum of 83%), MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer said in a letter to MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem: "Given your continued insistence on hundreds of millions of dollars of additional pay reductions, we assume these negotiations are at an end."
Clark followed with a statement asking the league to use its right from the sides' March 26 agreement to set a schedule, saying: "It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It's time to get back to work. Tell us when and where."
Numerous players echoed Clark on Monday in response to Manfred, tweeting, "Tell us when and where."
In a seven-page letter to Meyer on Monday, Halem, while discussing health concerns, noted that MLB already knows of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive for the coronavirus. The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, did not elaborate on when the testing was done or how many tested positive.
Manfred said in Monday's interview that he believes the union intended to file a grievance that the league had not fulfilled its obligation under the March 26 agreement to play the most games possible, which he deemed a "bad faith tactic."
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"I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players' full prorated salary that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26," Manfred told ESPN. "Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union's top lawyer was out telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule -- as they requested -- they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars.
"Obviously, that sort of bad faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances."