Baseball's Return Complicated by Money, Star Power

Mike Trout is one of a number of MLB players concerned about returning during the pandemic.
Mike Trout is one of a number of MLB players concerned about returning during the pandemic. Photo by Jack Gorman
Major League Baseball wants to finally get its season underway. For nearly two months, they have discussed the process by which that might happen. But, as we barrel ahead into summer, some of the complications of restarting have come from factors other than COVID-19.

No one said it would be easy. When the MLB began discussion plans for a re-start to the season, possibly an 80-game schedule perhaps played in one or two locations, it felt like momentum was building. But, with a little over a week left in May, there is still no consensus on how or when baseball will get going again.

Talks have been ongoing and at least a few things seem fairly certain:

1. Games will be played in empty stadiums.
2. There will be no single location like they are considering in the NBA.
3. The season will be abbreviated.

And, that's about it. Beyond that, there are still a myriad number of logistical details to handle, from how to keep players safe when they aren't under quarantine — at home, they are pretty much on their own — how often they will need to test without pissing off the general public, how they will deal with people connected to the team (staff, hotel employees, etc.), and just exactly where they will play — it's conceivable some states like California won't allow teams to play well into August.

But, that may be the least of their worries. Players have yet to agree to the league's revenue sharing plan and a number of big-name players like Mike Trout are expressing concern about the safety of playing given the circumstances.

Trout, and a handful of other players, are rightfully worried about the impacts on their families. Trout's wife is pregnant and due to give birth in the next few months. He has wondered out loud how he can do that and still keep his commitment to the Angels. Other players worry about the impacts of hundreds if not thousands of other staff members and personnel who they cannot control, a completely reasonable concern.

Still, the biggest hurdle is likely money. Players agreed to reduced payroll in March based on missed games, but the league wants them to agree to revenue sharing when and if they return to make up for lost income from ticket sales, concessions and other revenues. Players are balking.

The MLB remains the only one of the major sports with no salary cap. The NBA, in particular, features revenue sharing agreements that divvy up income to players. Baseball has nothing like that. No doubt owners would love to see something like that put in place, but players aren't interesting and they see the league's push to do so during the pandemic as a means to keep those measure in place after, particularly with a looming collective bargaining agreement negotiation.

So far, the players have been steadfast in their desire to move forward with the rules as is, but the owners have different ideas. And while it might be easy to take shots at the players, most of the league makes very little compared to the highest paid stars. Any kind of revenue restrictions would likely do more damage to them than to guys who make millions every season.

Despite all the issues surrounding the re-opening of professional sports, for baseball, money seems to be the proverbial line in the sand. And, with a deadly pandemic as the backdrop, it could be money that derails the entire season.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke