NEW YORK — Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope and confidence for the sport to return this summer because without it, he claimed, owners will lose up to $4 billion.
Manfred spoke extensively about the league's challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic in an interview on CNN's "AC360" with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Thursday night. The 10-minute discussion is one of Manfred's designed measures to convince the players that it's safe to play baseball.
"The economic effects are devastating, frankly, for the clubs," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of the low fronts, in terms of revenue. We hadn't quite started our season yet. And if we don't play a season, the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion."
Manfred's public comments — provided without detail — arrived a day after Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell said it's "just not worth it" to play baseball on a reduced salary amid the coronavirus outbreak. Big-name MLB All-Stars Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado supported Snell's position.
The players already agreed in March to pro-rate their pay based on how many games would be played in 2020. Two months later, the owners (Manfred's bosses) now hope to convince the players to take another pay cut, because without fans in the stands and the loss of gate-related revenue like concessions and parking fees, the league expects profits to nose dive.
"Playing in empty stadiums is not a great deal for us economically," Manfred said. "But our owners are committed to doing that because they feel it's important that the game be back on the field and that the game be a sign of a beginning to return to normalcy, to American life the way we've always enjoyed it."
Players' Association chief Tony Clark expressed opposition to the league's proposed 50-50 revenue split, saying "A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period."
"We all knew we weren't going to be playing in front of fans when this first got stopped," Arenado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "Once that happened, the talk was that no fans were going to be around for a long time. I feel like that is something that should have been known when we signed our pro-rated deal.
"You can't sit here and tell me that we would have been selling out these games in four months. I don't know how anyone would have assumed that."
Manfred acknowledged that he may not be able to convince all players — like Snell, Harper, Arenado and possibly many more — to return to work.
"At the end of the day, however, if there are players with health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never try to force them to come back to work," Manfred said. "They can wait until they feel they're ready to come."
Manfred doesn't expect those concerns to stop the season from launching.
"I think it's hopeful that we will have Major League Baseball this summer," he said. "We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it's safe to return to work. The health protocols for players returning to play are about 80 pages in length. They're extraordinarily detailed."
The commissioner said that the 80-page report includes frequency of testing, temperature checks, how players will travel on private charters that will "have to be cleaned," the number of people who will have access to the ballpark and team employees who "will be isolated from the players."
He did not mention the level or usage of masks, but it is expected that the league will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended guidelines on the matter.
"Whenever there's a discussion about economics, publicly people tend to characterize it as a fight," Manfred said. "Personally, I have great confidence that we'll reach an agreement with the Players' Association both that it's safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved."
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