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Right now, the game is continuing. There was a conference of bones and it's official.
It's March 11th. A Major League Baseball's commissioner, Rob Manfred, is sitting at his home in Jupiter, Florida. It's 15 days before what will likely be the most challenging season of his entire time as the sports commissioner. He's just been crushed in the press for how he's handled a cheating scandal by the Houston Astros. Interest in the sport is waning and attendance is down. But that night at home, in his living room, he can see that the corona virus is starting to engulf the country.
From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including a large scale and very dangerous health threat.
On his television, always, Donald Trump is addressing the country from the Oval Office, and then Manford stares down at his eye.
Completely uncharted territory. And we are going to get a little more information now from Adrian Morgan, Ralphie, which he is with.
And you can see the ESPN has just moved a breaking news alert right now.
The NBA has made the decision.
They have just announced that they are suspending play, that the NBA finishing up has suspended its season. But starting.
And Manford realizes. Oh, shit.
And then the league is going to use that hiatus to decide their next steps, how they'll go forward.
My sport last night is supposed to begin its season and the entire country is shutting down around me. Joining us and I have to figure out how to get my sport back on the field amid all this mess.
And now is a player has tested positive for it. The ripple effects on other teams. From The New York Times. I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, my colleague Mike Schmidt on the fraught weeks that led up to last night's opening game of the 2020 baseball season. From the perspective of the commissioner of Major League Baseball, it's Friday, July 24th. Everybody thinks I've never been to a baseball game. You know, I was actually told that before we started.
That's not true.
I, I. I grew up in the United States of America.
They they they like they like a pre briefing now for you. And they're like. He's never been to a baseball game.
So let me get this straight. Somebody stands in the middle and throws a ball.
Yes. OK. OK, we're going to start. All right. Mike, for the past three years, we have talked to you about the president, Russia, the FBI, national security. We have not talked to you about baseball, but here we are in this hangout for you to tell us a story about baseball.
So just explain that during the three years covering the Russia investigation, Mueller, whether the president obstructed justice to understand this story. I focused on the characters who I thought drove it, the former FBI director, Jim Comey, the former White House counsel, Don McGahn.
But earlier in my career, in my first beat, when I covered baseball, the commy and McGann of that story from my reporting was a little known labor lawyer named Rob Manfred awaiting the start of the first of two days of hearings on the use of steroids, performance enhancing drugs in baseball.
He was the official in the commissioner's office who had to deal with the steroids scandal that was engulfing the sport and the executive vice president for Labor and Human Resources, Major League Baseball.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ranking member, committee members. I especially appreciate the opportunity and speak with you.
Manfred and I had a pretty rough start to our relationship. I was in over aggressive young reporter and he was this pugnacious in your face takes no prisoners lawyer who had the sport's biggest problem on his desk. And we would just get on the phone, we get on speaker phone, you put me on speaker phone and you would scream at me and I would push back at him. And after a while, a few years of this, I think we both sort of looked down at our hands and realized that our hands were sort of bloodied, but we hadn't really got anything out of it.
And we started to build a much more constructive relationship.
Did you finally get off speakerphone? No.
Rob says it robs the kind of guy to won't put you on speaker phone and tell you what he's really thinking. Rob is not someone who waxes poetic about baseball. He's someone that ended up working at baseball. And he's going to do everything in his power to support and defend that sport. So I went on to do other things and he became the head of the sport. But as the corona virus was engulfing the country, I said to myself, there's a lot of wady, really important things going on right now.
But the idea of Rob sitting at home by himself trying to figure out how to save his sports season, how to save the summer was pretty appealing to me. So I reached out to him and I said, look, you are going to be spending the rest of your career explaining how you dealt with this season.
And you and your sport both face an existential threat if you don't have a season. Your sport is going to lose even more money. It's going to be your legacy. Let's get on the phone and talk about what that's like, Rob.
Yeah, just give me one second. And he agreed. All right.
I got to do this. Coach, you know Clinton. One minute.
OK, so the first time I call him is on May 20th. All right, Mike, go. What do you want to talk about this morning?
He's still at home in Florida. Like many people working from home. He's taking Zoome calls.
And I mean, literally what I'm doing is I got a regular series of calls to get, and it's clear that he's immersed and knee deep in the question, how do you take a sport? That's normally played in stadiums in front of thousands and thousands of people. Players are right up against each other on the field. And every few days, teams like a traveling roadshow go to another city to play another team. That's coming from another part of the country.
So how do you do that in the age of code? How do we get back to playing? One of the things that floated up from one of the experts is she was a way that you can do this is to quarantine the players. Right.
And then he explains to me that there was initially an idea to quarantine all the players in a bubble. Essentially, the players would go to a location and be cut off from the rest of society as they played the season.
And then you're going to start a four and a half month season and your life is going to be hotel the ballpark. Back to hotel room service.
Not see your family. You can't see your families. You can't be with your families. Yeah. I mean, that's one of them. I mean, look, one of the quarantine. You know, and we realize, gee, that's pretty tough. And then we started talking about including families. And then you realize is moving to that phase that you get into quarantine numbers that are insane.
Just so he says, there was another plan that baseball was essentially going to play in three hubs, Arizona, Texas and Florida, Arizona for the West Coast teams, Texas for the central team, somewhere in Florida for the East Coast teams.
That makes sense because those states seem to be more receptive to letting us play the three parts of the country that had not really been hit heavily by the virus.
Not at that point. Right. But as they're weighing this plan, the country starts to open up. So baseball again shifts its plan and says, OK, the teams will play in their stadiums and we will have a game. But it will have many, many new restrictions that me as a fan and many fans never could have fathomed. What would a game look like now as things are in place? Based on what you have, what would you know?
The Yankees are the Yankees and the Red Sox are playing tomorrow. What would that look like? Look at sixty seven pages of stuff. I mean, it's it's really thorough in terms of, you know, what people can, you know, no high fives, no spitting hay and sanitizing. In between innings, mandatory, no exchange of lineup cards at home plate. It's done via an app. Players who are not likely to play in the game are outside the dugout in the first couple of rows of the stands.
So pretty different version of baseball than we're used to. Totally. And there's an economic issue. The owners and the players know that if they return to the field, it will almost certainly be a shorter season and there will be less money to go around. And Manfred, as the representative of the owners think, said he has an understanding with the players about how that issue will be resolved. Things.
We advanced him about one hundred and seventy million dollars to salary, but they agreed in return meant that they would only get paid their salaries based based on a pro-rated number of games. So in other words.
So it appears like the only thing standing in the way of baseball returning to the field is the virus. And Manfred, as confident as an executive as I've ever had to deal with, sounds confident about this and says we're going to make this work.
Hey, Michael, I got to run for today. Happy to pick up the next time panel. That's fine. Let's do that. That's fine. All right. Appreciate it. Okay. But by the next time we got on the phone on June 11th, everything had changed.
Let's kick it off with Major League Baseball and what's going on.
The players thought they had a deal for 100 percent pro-rated salaries. And the owners are saying you misunderstood.
They were not asking for our full salaries. We're just asking whatever games we play. We'd like to get our game checked for that game.
Wait a second. You're telling me you're not going to go to work to play a game? We would all kill to play pro play for the love of the game.
Room with team room. Not a theme, bro.
I'm risking my life. I don't believe that the players are going to look good when you've got. Thirty three plus million people had already filed for unemployment. The subject comes up when no greedy players. They make millions. And it's pointed out that the owners make billions. Like a lot of people, they got all worked up. There's not going to be any baseball looted. They're so far apart. And I'm like, this is what they call negotiate.
Yes. Am I right or wrong?
How percent. What's going on today? Well, you tell me so it's the afternoon, it's clear that the season is in doubt, I guess. But now it's not because of the virus. It's all about that deal with the players.
And Mike, what's the crux of this labor issue that the commissioner is suddenly encountering?
So at this point in the pandemic, it is clear to the owners and anyone else paying attention that the last thing to come back is going to be mass gatherings. And that means no fans in this stadium for any of the season. Typically at a game, you have anywhere from 20, 30, 40, 50 thousand people there. All those seats will be empty and all that revenue will no longer be there either. So the owners want to negotiate new terms for what the players are going to be paid per game because the owners say we're going to be making even less money than we thought because there will be no fans in the stands.
What was the lowest moment of the past week? Oh, you know, I. I think the union's last proposal when they stated 100. You know, their failure to move in response to what we thought was a pretty good proposal, you know, it was disappointing. And what's the response from the players? The players say we're already taking a huge pay cut. A shorter season means fewer games were paid per game and this is a lot less money.
So now, even though we're having a shorter season, you want us to take more of a pay cut? The players say, look, we only have a couple of years in which were in the league. The average career is five years. And you're asking us to give up more money. What about the owners who will be there for many, many more years and are worth billions and billions of dollars? Is there been a point in this where you sort of said yourself.
Gosh, this is worse than I thought it would be because you're thinking I'm going to go down as well? Because it's it's an existential threat to the sport. Right? It's an existential threat to you.
Right. Yes, it is. Yes. Yes. The the outcome of no games. Is a massive threat to the good in the game. Remember? The sport has these other problems. Basketball has more of a cultural following. Football has better ratings. There was the Astros cheating scandal. There is the decline in attendance. And if baseball doesn't come back amid a pandemic at the same time that other sports are because players, many who are millionaires and owners, many who are billionaires, are having a fight over money.
It could have a devastating long term impact on the sport.
And, of course, moving in the back of Manfred's head and everyone else in baseball is the fact that in the sport's recent history, they did lose this season because of labor issues and baseball paid enormously for it. We'll be right back. Hi, I'm Kristin Mindset and I'm the co-host of Innovation Uncovered, a new podcast. The world is changing in real time, often in ways we don't notice and can't predict. Innovation Uncovered explores the breakthroughs that are driving our culture now from how we play to what we consume, to how we connect.
Learn more about the ideas that are reshaping our reality in extraordinary ways. Innovation uncovered as a podcast from Invesco, QQQ and T. Brand at The New York Times. Listen today in Basco Distributors Inc.
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So as all this is going on with Manfred. I'm thinking of nineteen ninety four. And what happened in 1984, opening day 94. Huge crowd. Oh, boy. Weather could not have been more cooperative. I'm eleven years old and I am into baseball more than I've ever been.
Yes, 11 games being played this afternoon. Major League Baseball on opening day 1994, including President Clinton at Jacobs Field in downtown Cleveland.
I feel like I know nearly every player on every team, the Yankees on top and Mike Stanley to lead things off.
I'm looking at the box scores every day. I'm watching Sports Center in the morning. Look at them. We just got a computer in the house, I'm printing out pictures of Yankee players and pasting them onto cardboard and putting them up in my bedroom.
Here is perhaps the most popular poudre of all time. Tony Gwynn stepping in. It's also unknown, magical seasons, the right hand grab in the center field. That's a base.
And it looks like the all star, Tony Glan is going to hit 400. DeNiro looks like the home run record, maybe be groping. Oh, America likes that. It's gone. And the Yanks drive the home run out of the park with a five three win. The 80s are back there.
Great again. I'm a Yankee fan. The next balls have won 13 of their last 14. Now they're on a pace to win 100 game. And in this one, I'm literally sitting at the edge of my seat as a fan, more engrossed in the game than I've ever been before. The Expos leave the field in first place, yet wondering if their best season ever is in jeopardy. Even so, they're prepared to sit it out for as long as it takes.
The season is stopped.
We don't want to strike. We didn't. What does that mean? We have more. We may have no other choice but to go out and take ourselves in the game of baseball in the middle of the summer.
The players go on strike in a dispute with the owners about money and then.
But I'll say what I've said to many of you, either independently or collectively.
The baseball commissioner at the time comes out like a lot of things in life.
You anticipate something and fear that it's coming. Hope that it isn't. And announces that the World Series will be canceled.
And when the day is here, there's an incredible amount of sadness.
There will be no more baseball in 1994. And how is young baseball crazed Mike feeling as he hears that the World Series has been canceled? The season is officially over.
I was crushed. I was crushed and there was nothing really to compare it to. What I saw in that moment as a kid. Is something that I understand better now after covering it. Which is that there's two sides to baseball. There's the romantic side. But there's the other side of it, which is that it is a business in baseball runs into problems when business rears its head and it rips the romanticism right out of it.
And what's interesting is that the commissioner at the time, in 1994, the guy who actually had to cancel the season was Bud Sealy. What would you mean different from Manfred? He's a baseball romantic. If you get on the phone with Seelig, you always have to listen to him regale and tell stories about baseball history. Just a deep seeded love of the game. And he was the person that had to cancel the 1994 season. He was the one.
They had to put his name on the statement that came out and said there will be no World Series.
So as this season, the 2020 season looked in down, I thought the person to call is Bud Selig.
Hello, Commissioner. Can you hear me all right? I can hear you. Very good. Good.
Because he understands more than anyone else the situation that Manfred finds himself in.
So we're looking at the whole question of a baseball season. Right. Take us back to nineteen ninety four. Tell us that story and tell us why a baseball season is so important.
Well, if you let me in, I always you might give you a little history. So, like I said, Seelie starts with some baseball history. He goes back to World War Two. Hundreds of players were sent off to fight.
But even as they were at war, FDR had written a letter in December of 42, 1942, urging baseball to continue. The season was not in question.
And so through this. Unbelievable Second World War. They did play based football. So we go in and 1994, I guess it was about the 16th of September. My memory serves me well, and I think it does. I was in. County Stadium. And we're we're going to have to announce that there would be no soon. That night I came home and I sat upstairs in the den. And I replayed every World Series from 1940. Good afternoon, everyone.
Don, don't be thinking. BARBELLA Kyra, Mandela's later. My first recollection was cable. St. Louis was Brown. Here it comes. He swings on and hits it open arms out of left field. I guess I just sat there very quietly and deep thought.
Man on first one away. Third baseman Mark Preston, you played on the nail. I was hard to point.
It's one of the low moments of my career. And because he finds the World War pretty accurately illuminates the young World Series.
Me, it was it was really sad. When you're sitting there that night in the den. What else is going to your head? Well, one thing that I don't think any of us ever really understood was how much it was hurting this for. Fans were angry and we dragged them to a. I mean, it's now 26 years ago and the pain, as they say, they got to come back. And I was worried, scared. I feel about a baseball strike.
I think, you know, and I think the players are. You make enough money anyway. It would be pretty boring without buying the. Just remember, the game is striking.
I mean, I don't know. I think everyone's money hungry.
I should find an agreement and keep on playing. Should they play for free? Yes. Why? Because if the game didn't care how much money and the owners they get.
They say they don't make enough money. So the question is, what isn't enough money? So what do you do? No, I guess just watch minor league baseball.
I already know what I'm going to start doing. I'm going to start rereading Dante's Inferno because that's where I think they should send the whole lot of.
So as you probably suspected, it wasn't just 11 year old Mike who is mad at baseball. It was no. And as bad as 94 was 95, 96 in 97. We're just as bad because fans were so upset by the strike that the sport had to rebuild itself and rebuild its credibility with the fans.
Mike, how much you think nineteen ninety four is on the mind of Manfred? Enormously. Huge. Front of mind. Because that labor lawyer who I met. Back when I was covering drugs in baseball, he was just starting out in baseball in nineteen ninety four, huh? And he was a junior lawyer who was deeply involved in the strike and trying to help the owners when the labor fight.
And that's when I met him. And the more I saw Rod, the more I liked him. And he may work well together. Somebody asked me the other day. How often need you talk to Rob back then? Maybe 10 times a day, maybe more than he wanted. I may add. So after Manford became commissioner, Seelie tried to give him some space and some distance. He didn't want to look like the father telling the son how to run the sport.
And a bit of distance grew between the two of them. But one thing we'll say to each other, Mike, as Manford found himself in this situation, he began to lean back on Seelie.
I'm the only other guy in the face of the Earth that understands exactly what the pressure is and what situation.
And they talked more than they had at any other point since Manford had become commissioner, since I've done their job for 20 doing it.
And yeah, I'm I'm the only one who's saying what he's on. So, yes, there is. There's no question about it. I really appreciate it. Great. Well, I hope you enjoy it. It was a pleasure to do it. And we'll talk soon. Thanks. Bye.
So what happens next in the story, Mike? So at this point, it's been more than a month since my first conversation with Rob. And things are getting really nasty between the owners and the players, the middle of June.
And, boy, what Astros fans would give to be sitting in the stands a minute maid park right about now.
It's true. And we were hopeful.
Baseball negotiations grinding to a halt like we we're almost in July. Now, there's nothing. I mean, we're still in the same position that we were in March. And if they don't do something about it, the sport is going to fade even more. How are you?
A commissioner like baseball should have been back a month ago. They should be basically saying, here's our opportunity to recapture an audience.
It's just it's unfortunate that it's been so public. I think fans of both turned away a little bit. There's a reason. Major League Baseball's executive office is filled with labor lawyers because they're in a labor fight every 12 years.
It is league. So Manfred becomes so frustrated that he decides to go out on television and say, well, I know the owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field.
Unfortunately, I can't tell you that I'm 100 percent certain that's going to happen.
You know, I said there was going to be a season weekend, but actually now I'm not sure. And he's trying for any attempt to restart the negotiations. Get the players back to the table and move forward. That ultimately doesn't really work. And he has to go out on his own and announces that a 60 game season will start on July twenty third.
So, Mike, he can do that just. Call a 60 game season without a deal between the players and the owners. It wasn't his first choice. He wanted both sides to buy in. He wanted a better deal on how much the players would take a reduction in salary. But without any other choice. And his deep desire to have a season at pretty much any cost. That was his only option.
So is this seen as a win for the players or for the owners? Both and neither. The players are going to get paid their full salary for the games that they play. Manfred is going to get his season. But neither of them are walking away feeling good about their relationship.
And in the two months that they've taken to resolve this labor issue, they're now back to a health and safety problem. Mm hmm. Because in that time, Cauvin has exploded and spread to new states. And actually today, as I was preparing to talk to Rob for the final time, news broke that the all star player on the Nationals won. Soto had tested positive for kov it. So here's Manfred on the cusp of having the season. He fought so hard for learning just hours before the first pitch that one of the star players may have the virus.
Not ideal. Another oh shit moment in a long season.
Krisher Schmidt, oh. Hell of a day. Well, we're gonna make it to the starting line. Everybody seems zigzagging like we've done something. All we did was get out of the gate. Get up. Keep up. The hard part is playing games, you know. Anyways, I'm glad where we are, where we are. You know, I feel pretty good about it. Where are you right now? I'm in Washington Nationals Park. What's the feeling in the air?
Your opening day with no fans, just the members of the staff. What does that feel like? Like no opening day I've ever seen. So, you know, it's it's really different, like I mean, it's very stark right now. It's early still, but it's very stark right now. When you heard today that one photo contracted that we're talking about, the all star on the world championship team. Are you like, oh, oh no, we can't do this.
What's your what's your mindset? I mean, look, my initial reaction is I can't believe this is happening on opening day. But then I drop back and I thought about. We knew we were going to have positives. It's unfortunate that it was opening day and it was one soto. But the protocols were built to deal with. The whole point is you've got to build a system that's flexible enough to deal with what's coming. We knew it was coming.
Mindful that today is July twenty third. The first time we spoke with May 20th. It's been two months. What we've got now is pretty much the plan that you had back then for the virus. But in this period of time, you went through this whole tumultuous thing. If you could go back, would you have done anything differently? And is there any mistakes you made in the process? Well. If I could go back, you know, I'd love an opportunity to replay that hand.
I really wouldn't go. I think that one thing I can certainly point to the whole from the very beginning, the back and forth in the press and all that, I just I tried to avoid it. I didn't manage to do it. I'd love to have had a chance to go back and do it over again and be better at it. Do you think there's long term damage? You know, I think that I do think it was unsightly and we should we should not have allowed it to happen.
I think we sort of have a debt to our fans. Let me ask it this way. The two months of nasty public back and forth negotiations between the owners and the players. Do you think that will have long term damage to the sport going forward? Similar to 94. I just I can't. I just I don't know what to say to that. I just don't know. So tonight on the field will be exactly what you mapped out. The players will be distance no.
High fives, no. No spitting. What is your hope for how this team feels to the fans watching at home? Honestly, I hope that at the end of the night, what fans? Our thinking is, you know what? It's not. Everything that we're used to and love about the game. But you know what? It's great to have baseball, to see an empty stadium and no acknowledgment from the fans and no acknowledgement to the fans hours from those they.
So we're done. You'll stay. Thank goodness. I'll talk to you. We got a real good feel for tonight's speech.
Now, one of the more well-known Washington national fans, Dr. Anthony Foushee, to throw out the first pitch or pitch.
So, Mike, I am talking to you at nine 30 p.m. On Thursday evening, the game. Is currently underway in the first pitch was thrown out by Dr. Anthony Foushee, and it was pretty wobbly. I assume you've been watching the game.
Yes. And we're now in the middle of a rain delay.
Right. Which is perhaps why you're talking to me. I know you didn't set out. To be philosophical about baseball with this assignment. But if we could get philosophical for just a moment, I wonder how you're thinking about. Baseball and this game right now. Look, I told you about my first realization when I was 11 years old that baseball walks a fine line between being a game and a business. When I became a sports reporter, I covered the darkest underbelly of the sport and saw it in probably a nastier light than most fans could ever dream of.
And in the years after that. I had a hard time falling back into the romantic fandom of baseball. I had just seen too much. But last year. Almost a decade after I left sports. I got my fandom back. I caught the bug again. And as 20-20 started, I was ready to continue that and to try and be their fan again. These negotiations brought back those feelings of the two headed monster of baseball and the business head becoming too big.
But at the end of the day. There's going to be a season and it's going to look weird and feel very, very different. But it's a season and it's baseball. In other words, you're still a little bit of a romantic. Look, I'll take it I'll take it for now.
Last season, a couple of very difficult stands really prevented him from accomplishing much of anything. Mike, thank you very much. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the season.
Thanks for having me on it. High in the air to left center. That ball is gone as far as GA. Way back in the left centerfield seats. Had there been fans at the ballpark. It was a guy that bought the worst seat. That would have gotten that souvenir a one shot. Instead, it's a two run digger and the Yankees immediately take to nothing.
He turned around at ninety six mile an hour fastball. One hundred and fifty nine feet. What's the same way we always had? The harder it comes in, the harder it goes up. And that's the MVP swing that the New York Yankees acquired from the Marlins. This is the old one goes up to fathers in Serbia. So the Yanks take a do nothing lead. We'll be right back. Add into it, we know that millions are struggling financially, including many who are unemployed or self-employed.
So we're offering financial guidance to help you understand your options. Guidance to help navigate unemployment benefits. Information on the Keres Act. And benefits for those who are self-employed. And resources to help you understand what benefits you may qualify for and for how long. Because we want to help you move your finances forward, get financial guidance that into it. Dot com slash financial tips. Here's what else you need to know today. On Thursday, the United States reached a new milestone in the pandemic with four million known infections.
Infections are now on the rise in 39 different states Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Everything was going well. A tremendous list of speakers. Thousands of people wanting to be there and I mean, in some cases desperately be there. They wanted to do it at the White House.
President Trump said he would cancel the public portion of the Republican National Convention scheduled for August to avoid strict social distancing rules. The president had moved the events from North Carolina to Florida, which now has the highest infection rate in the country.
But I looked at my team and I said the timing for this event is not right. Just not right with what's happened recently. The flare up in Florida to have a big convention is not the right time.
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