MLB to start on time after players reject delay

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FILE - In this July 24, 2020, file photo, empty seats are viewed in Busch Stadium as St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty throws in the first inning baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in St. Louis. Major League Baseball players rejected a proposal to delay the start of spring training and the season due to the coronavirus pandemic, vowing Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, to report under the original schedule. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

NEW YORK – Major League Baseball will proceed with an on-time start to spring training and the season after players rejected a plan Monday night to delay reporting by a more than a month.

"In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our clubs to report for an on-time start to spring training and the championship season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols," MLB said in a statement.

“We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, club staff and MLB staff to protect one another,” MLB said. "We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.”

MLB proposed to the players' association on Friday that the start of spring training be pushed back from Feb. 17 to March 22, that opening day be delayed from April 1 to April 28 and that each team's schedule be cut from 162 games to 154. MLB believed the virus situation would improve during the month delay.

Under the proposal, each team would have been allowed to be scheduled up to 12 split doubleheaders. Experimental rules for seven-inning doubleheaders and beginning extra innings with a runner on second base would have continued for a second season.

As part of the offer, MLB included the expansion of the playoffs from 10 teams to 14 and extending the designated hitter to the National League for the second straight season, a plan the union rejected Jan. 6.

Bruce Meyer, the union’s director of collective bargaining, called deputy commissioner Dan Halem on Monday to inform him the proposal had been rejected, two people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because that detail was not announced.

Halem then asked Meyer to make a counteroffer, and Meyer sent an email asking MLB to guarantee salary and service time in the event of an interruption, one of the people said.

MLB's proposal Friday included expanded rights for Commissioner Rob Manfred to interrupt the season. Halem responded to Meyer on Monday and said MLB would agree to withdraw that part of the proposal but that each side would retain whatever rights it has under the labor and player contracts, the person said.

Meyer responded Monday night that the union will not make any more proposals, that the union did not believe MLB’s plan was designed to protect health and safety, and that players expect MLB to tell teams that it intends to start spring training and the season on time, the person said.

"The MLBPA executive board and player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and today," the union said then in its public statement. “The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its clubs to prepare for an on-time start.

“We do not make this decision lightly. Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help players and clubs meet these challenges.”

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, which expires next Dec. 1, calls for voluntary reporting dates of Feb. 17 for pitchers, catchers and injured players, and Feb. 22 for others. The mandatory reporting date, which few players stick to, is Feb. 27.

While MLB's proposal said players would have received 100% of pay if all 154 scheduled games were played, the plan would have given Manfred the right to stop spring training, the regular season or the postseason if government restrictions prevented five or more teams from playing home games even without fans, if government rules restricted travel in the United States, if Manfred determined after consultation with medical experts and the union there is an unreasonable safety risk to players or staff, or if the number of regular major leaguers unavailable because of COVID-19 undermined competitive integrity.

"MLB’s proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season," the union said.

Seven teams in each league would have made the playoffs, and only the division winner with the best record would have received a bye in the best-of-three first round. There would have been a selection show in which the seeded teams would have been able to, in order of percentage, select their first-round opponent. The three advancing teams in each league and the one with a bye would have advanced to the best-of-five Division Series, starting the traditional rounds of the postseason.

While the sides spent weeks disagreeing on starting the season last year, MLB went ahead with a 60-game schedule and the sides reached a separate agreement to expand last year's playoffs to 16 teams in a deal reached just before the season opener.

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