Coronavirus could cost MLB players money through national emergency clause

MLB's standard contract contains language specific to the financial ramifications of a national emergency.

Major League Baseball’s standard contract contains a clause that could have wide-ranging financial implications as league officials and union representatives navigate restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The uniform player contract, as detailed in MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, contains language specific to the financial ramifications of a national emergency. The clause in paragraph 11 of the contract effectively allows MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred to suspend player contracts in situations where government orders force the cancellation of games.

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“This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the player, club or the league and subject also to the right of the commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.

President Trump declared a national emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak last Friday. Separately, a growing number of states have issued orders banning mass gatherings, including sporting events, because of the risk to public health.

An MLB Players Association official declined to comment on the clause and whether the union has had any discussions with MLB officials regarding its potential use. Players are paid twice a month during the regular season.

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The growing crisis left MLB with little choice but to cancel the remainder of spring training activities and delay the start of its season. In an update on Monday afternoon, MLB would follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warned against gatherings of 50 or more people, by delaying the season for at least the next eight weeks.

The 2020 MLB season was initially slated to begin on March 26. In its initial statement on the delayed start to the 2020 season, MLB said the decision was “due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.”

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At present, MLB officials have not provided any indication that they plan to withhold player pay during the coronavirus crisis. The league suspended spring training camps last Friday and allowed players to return home.

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement contains a similar clause, which allows teams to withhold a portion of player pay during a “force majeure” event, such as an epidemic. The National Basketball Players Association said in an email to players that no discussions have occurred regarding that clause to date.

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