It must be hard to love the World Series when Major League Baseball players and owners are willing to scrap the entire season because they cannot agree on sharing money. MLB parties have gone back and forth, and prorated salaries for a half-season versus revenue sharing seems to be the most significant sticking point. MLB was first on testing, and the first to float creative ideas to restart their season. While negotiations for the NHL playoffs were initially cautious and slow to move forward, baseball had unique options on the table as world leagues lit the way.
But baseball continues to squabble over money. MLB could present a new proposal on Tuesday, but Billionaires waring with millionaires is a bad look when as many as 45% of businesses don’t expect to survive this coronavirus crisis.
Make no mistake, you and I would not work for free, and nor should MLB players. But the NHL players will do so for the greater good.
For those unaware, NHL players do not get paid in the playoffs. No other sport has a “second season,” which are two-month-long, grueling playoffs infinitely more intense and physical than the regular season. NHL players’ paychecks are for the regular season. Missing the playoffs, getting swept in the first round, or winning the Stanley Cup pays the same, except for small Cup bonuses.
By agreeing to the 24-team NHL playoffs, hockey players effectively agreed to finish their season for the money they’ve already received. In fact, one issue to be resolved is whether NHL players will accept their final paycheck from April 15, or put that money back into the system as revenues for 2020-21 to alleviate a little bit of the massive revenue drop this season.
That’s the equivalent of employees taking pay cuts to save the business. That’s hockey.
Amazingly, money was never a consideration in the negotiations to save the hockey season. The NHL and NHLPA have grown closer, and the two sides will continue working on an extension of the current CBA or a new CBA after we get through this mess. Every indication, every published report, and backchannel whisper praised the cooperation.
Pittsburgh Penguins NHLPA rep Kris Legang said it best when he explained why the Penguins voted yes on the 24-team NHL playoffs format, “for the good of the game.”
Contrast that with baseball.
Who will stand up and demand the sides do what is right for the good of baseball? There could be an agreement on a baseball season this week as the sides are making a last run at salvaging the season. Deadlines are approaching.
Safety measures have been established, so that isn’t the main concern. No, baseball is all about the money.
The NHL issued a 29-page memo on Monday, which detailed the next steps. NHL Phase 2 will be voluntary as the league hopes to reopen team facilities for small group workouts. Teams will provide testing in Phase 2 and help players relocate to the club’s home cities at team expense.
According to Dr. Issac Bogoch, the infectious disease expert at Toronto General Hospital who spoke with The Hockey News last week, the risk for athletes is low.
“The risk in otherwise healthy people in their 20s and 30s, and maybe a handful of people in their 40s, is extraordinarily low of having a poor outcome,” said Bogoch. “And by poor outcome, I mean the risk of hospitalization, being in an intensive care unit, the risk of death…”
Safety remains a primary concern for hockey players, and that was communicated to the NHL. Both sides are working for acceptable and satisfactory protections.
Money remains the primary focus for MLB players and owners.
As a former baseball lover, the game will never be the same. When the matrix was revealed, it took a large piece of my sports fandom with it. Maybe in some cornfield in Iowa, the 1994 Montreal Expos will get their World Series. Perhaps the steroid abusers who supposedly saved the game after the 1994 labor strife but then wrecked it by cheating will be held accountable instead of placed in the Hall of Fame. And just maybe, MLB will find a way to achieve a competitive balance instead of filling small-market owners’ pockets to keep quiet.
Eventually, the accumulation of self-inflicted wounds will change baseball from “America’s pastime” to simply “the past,” and that’s incredibly sad. It breaks my heart, and perhaps yours?
Maybe someday, baseball will again bind American life. This moment certainly isn’t it.
Contrast that with the grit and passion of hockey. Hockey fans will have something to hold onto this summer, and the heroes in sweaters will have 34.5 pounds of silver to lift.
Maybe if baseball fans offer to pay an extra $10 for their MLB TV subscription?