MLB cancels first two series after deadline passes with no deal

"I had hoped against hope that I would not have to have this particular press conference, in which I am going to cancel some regular season games," Manfred said during a press conference at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., where negotiations were held for the last week-plus. "We worked hard to avoid an outcome that's bad for our fans, bad for our players and bad for our clubs."

Thumbnail image for Nationals-Park-Closed-Gates-Sidebar.jpgOn Feb. 10, the last time he spoke publicly, Manfred said the loss of any regular season games due to this labor battle would be "a disastrous outcome" for the sport. Nineteen days later, disaster has struck.

Despite claims of optimism on the league's side late Monday night following a marathon series of back-and-forth proposals in Florida, the players insisted throughout they weren't nearly as close to a deal as it sounded. And by the time the MLBPA executive board turned down what MLB insisted would be its final offer this afternoon, the loss of regular season games became reality.

Though 30 days remain before all 30 clubs were set to begin the regular season, the league set a Feb. 28 deadline to agree to a new CBA and end its lockout of players to allow for a few days for everyone to make plans in advance of a four-week spring training that would've been significantly condensed from traditional six-week camps.

With members of both negotiating parties now departing Florida, and no word yet when they will attempt another round of talks, time had run out to start the season on time.

"What's next? The calendar dictates that we're not going to be able to play the first two series of the regular season, and those games are officially canceled," Manfred said. "We're prepared to continue negotiations. We've been informed that the MLBPA is headed back to New York, meaning that no agreement is possible until at least Thursday. As such, camps could not meaningfully operate until at least March 8, leaving only 23 days before the scheduled opening day."

The Nationals were scheduled to open the season March 31 in New York with a three-game series against the Mets, likely facing former staff ace (and MLBPA executive board member) Max Scherzer in his debut with his new club. Their first scheduled home series, April 4-6 versus Bryce Harper and the Phillies, has now also been canceled by Manfred.

It's a devastating blow to the sport, one that hasn't been experienced in a generation, but it's not necessarily a surprising outcome given the tenor of the last three months, which didn't see serious, daily negotiations begin until this last week.

And so for the second time in three years, the season will not begin on time. The reason for the most recent postponement, in 2020, was out of everyone's control. The still-new COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to ravage our daily lives, and the idea of trying to play professional sports at that moment was preposterous to all invested parties.

This postponement, though, harkens back painful memories of the last players' strike, which wound up canceling six weeks of the 1994 regular season and the entire postseason, then delayed the start of the 1995 season until April 25, with the traditional 162-game schedule reduced to 144.

There was a key difference to this saga: This was not a players' strike but a league-instituted lockout, which began on Dec. 2 after the previous CBA expired and was described by Manfred at the time as a necessary tool to jumpstart negotiations.

In the end, it did anything but. And now MLB, which already has spent far too much time off the field than on the field the last 2 1/2 years, will remain off the field until further notice.

"The clubs, and our owners, fully understand, just how important it is to our millions of fans that we get the game on the field as soon as possible," Manfred said. "To that end, we want to bargain, and we want an agreement with the Players Association as soon as possible."

Based on the statement issued by the MLBPA late this afternoon, it's going to require more than a shift in monetary figures to get a deal done.

"Rob Manfred and MLB's owners have canceled the start of the season," the statement began. "Players and fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted, but sadly not surprised. From the beginning of these negotiations, players' objectives have been consistent - to promote competition, provide fair compensation for young players, and to uphold the integrity of our market system. Against the backdrop of growing revenues and record profits, we are seeking nothing more than a fair agreement.

"What Rob Manfred characterized as a 'defensive lockout' is, in fact, the culmination of a decades-long attempt to break our player fraternity. As in the past, this effort will fail. We are united and committed to negotiating a fair deal that will improve the sport for players, fans and everyone who loves our game."

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