By: Lou Schieffelin (University of Florida, Pre-Law)
“With the first pick of the 2020 MLB draft, The Detroit Tigers select…” Imagine hearing those words after years of weekend tournaments, late nights at the cage, extra-inning games, and long standing rivalries. A sigh of relief is assumed to rush over the athlete and his family. What a year to be a professional in the game of baseball. 2020 has brought fear, pain, social unrest, economic burdens, and an unsettling uncertainty for those who are signed to an organization in the MLB. Contract renegotiations and athletes opting out of the season have been the topic of conversation for the past few months. Here is what’s important to know:
1. MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement & Uniform Players Contract
Most Major League sports teams require that players and their perspective CBA, agree to certain terms addressing the salary payments. This goes for both general payments and for instances where games or season postponements are out of the control of both parties. Even though these force mejur instances are included, the specific next steps and salary protection can vary between each sport. In the defense of Major League Baseball, the 11th paragraph of the Uniform Players Contract states that:
“11. This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the Player, Club or League and subject also to the right of the Commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”
Once the United States declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, this contract was up for suspension by Commissioner Manfred. He had the right to immediately halt all contracts and payment obligations for the standing of the state of emergency. Where most athletes were worried about their paychecks, others faced a different concern. For athletes who had one year left to reach the five year minimum before being eligible for free agency, a shortened season due to the pandemic technically could delay the player for one more year by a handful of games.
2. MLB and the Player’s Association Agreement + Opting Out
On March 26, 2020 Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association came to an agreement. Depending on the player’s agreed salary, he will be paid per game based on the number of games he is on the “Active List”. When it comes to those who feel it is in their best interest and safety to opt out of the season, they face other challenges. Athletes with preexisting conditions that make them susceptible to contracting COVID-19 can petition to sit out, yet still be paid. However, if a player feels unsafe or uncomfortable with returning to the game for any reason, he can sit out, but will not receive pay. This poses a different and much more complex environment when potentially being based off of need, rather than safety. Established athletes with big bank accounts will feel far more comfortable opting out of a year’s pay, over new guys who are fighting for a spot in the starting line up. Those who may be at risk, but want to prove themselves will take that risk and play. A tough call to make, but one that the MLB and MLBPA are called to put in place to ensure accountability and safety for their players.
3. Athlete Testimonies
“My whole life I’ve worked hard to get a chance to be on a Major League field. To wear the uniform with my family name on the back and make my city proud. This year brought uncertainty and fear when I wanted to have hope and growth. It wasn’t always easy to keep working. Too many of the guys I knew in college who were supposed to get called to a team this year, were not via the virtual draft. They went as free agents or are staying an extra year at their prospective universities. This has been one big test for everyone, but it is important to remember, legality and sports aside, to be kind to one another.”
— Anonymous Player in the MLB
“I grew up and went to college in the same city where I was drafted to. I felt blessed to be a top rounder in this year’s draft with high hopes for the coming season. Then the pandemic hit and every dream I’ve had since I was eight years old was put on hold. My initial response was frustration and disappointment. That later turned into a drive to get better and be even more prepared for the next time I took the mound. The 60 man rosters were released and I didn’t see my name. The last time I got frustrated, I realized that I wasted time and discounted my own potential. COVID-19 took away some big moments this year, yet I’m ready for what’s to come and the change that can be made for the better.”
— Anonymous Player in the MLB