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OC Register: Commissioner Rob Manfred losing confidence there will be MLB games in 2020

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Less than a week after saying that he was “100 percent” certain that there would be a Major League Baseball season in 2020, Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN on Monday that he’s no longer sure.

“I’m not confident,” Manfred said in an interview to be aired Monday night. “I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue.”

Since Manfred’s “100 percent” comment last week in advance of Wednesday’s draft, the owners and players apparently reached an impasse in negotiations over money surrounding a season so far postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, the players and owners exchanged public statements, with the players saying they didn’t believe there was any more room for negotiation. Owners have been trying to get the players to agree to play for less than their full pro-rated salaries, and players have refused.

Tony Clark, head of the union, concluded his statement by saying that players were ready to play, as long as Manfred let them know when and where they should report, and for how many games.

Manfred has the right under the sides’ Mar. 26 agreement to unilaterally schedule a season, as long as the players receive their full pro-rated salaries.

The union, however, planned to file a grievance against MLB for a schedule of less than “as many games as possible,” which was one of the terms of the Mar. 26 agreement.

On Monday, though, Manfred indicated that the union’s refusal to continue to negotiating, and the threat of a grievance, had damaged the chances of starting a season.

Manfred said the union’s positions “were really negative in terms of our efforts.”

MLB owners reportedly spoke via conference call on Monday morning to discuss their next move.

“The owners are a hundred percent committed to getting baseball back on the field,” Manfred said on ESPN. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m a hundred percent certain that’s gonna happen.”

Manfred may simply be trying to shift the blame for a lost season to the players, forcing them to agree to further concessions or at least to waive a potential grievance. If there is no season, players would not receive any further salary.

Manfred acknowledged in the interview that the sport is taking a public relations hit by having a public squabble over money amid a pandemic that has resulted in more than 100,000 deaths in the United States and an economic crisis.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it,” Manfred said. “It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”

Owners had made several proposals to players, each calling for their salaries to be reduced beyond the pro-rated pay agreed upon in March. Owners have insisted that agreement was contingent on games being played with fans, and it does not apply under circumstances in which the season would at least have to begin in empty ballparks.

Players have asked for further financial data from owners to substantiate their claims that they couldn’t afford to pay the pro-rated salaries without fans. Owners have so far failed to produce enough to convince the players to accept lower salaries.

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