They might just end up being the three words that turned the tide for Major League Baseball — or at least for the players who seemingly moved ahead of the league in the public relations game between the two sides earlier this week. It has already become a T-shirt, and with the sides now talking again, the simple hashtag #WhenandWhere could go down as the game-changer.
The movement began in a statement released Saturday night by Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLB Players Association.
“It’s time to get back to work,” Clark said at the very end. “Tell us when and where.”
Soon after, players jumped on the quote and began a social media campaign, one that emerged organically, according to them.
“It’s definitely not a coordinated effort,” MLBPA executive board member Chris Iannetta of the Yankees said on Wednesday. “Guys just love to play, and when they saw Tony’s remarks, they really got behind it.”
— Enrique Hernández (@kikehndez) June 15, 2020
The players’ association would love to take credit for the movement, but board members say they didn’t tell Lance McCullers Jr., Kevin Pillar, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo and many others to run with it. They quickly realized on their own it was something everyone could get behind, after months of acrimony between them and the league.
“Players really meant it and believed in it so it came across as genuine,” executive board member Andrew Miller of the Cardinals texted. “I don’t think that’s always the case in the world of hashtags and talking points.”
Cause and effect might be up for debate, but as the grassroots campaign took hold, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred first declared there might not be baseball but then invited Clark for a face-to-face meeting as talks suddenly picked up steam.
“One of the pieces of that March agreement was to give the commissioner the ability to tell us where and when, at his discretion,” Iannetta said. “We’re baseball players and want to play baseball.
“I think everyone who saw it via social media thought, ‘I stand for that.’ Tell us where and when. We want to play under the agreement we made back in March.”
What the parties agreed to in March as far as player compensation has been at the heart of the current dispute. Players are unified in the belief they did not agree to lower pay if games were played without fans in the stands; the owners interpret the agreement to claim they did.
Tell us when and where. https://t.co/hy157hOYkl
— Bryce Harper (@bryceharper3) June 16, 2020
By shutting down the talks Saturday, and asking where and when to play, the players’ reaction forced Manfred into an awkward position. With plenty of time on the calendar to play closer to the 89 games the players were offering, the commissioner couldn’t simply say, “Let’s play 50 and wait until Aug. 1 to start.” And the possibility of a grievance loomed as well. Then came the request for Clark to meet with Manfred, and the positive momentum began.
“People loved it,” he told ESPN 1000 in Chicago on Wednesday. “It was great to see all the support. Fans seem to feel the exact same way.”
And that’s where the tide really turned — in the court of public opinion. Whereas sports-talk radio was full of criticism for both sides just days earlier, all of a sudden the idea of just getting back to work — albeit with full prorated salaries — became very appealing, and not just for the players. Manfred’s latest offer — a 60-game season that would begin July 19 — is the first one to include that concept.
“I believe that the fans have seen through the MLB PR machine,” Iannetta said. “I think you’ve seen over the course of this entire negotiation how documents have been leaked at a timely fashion from their side. I believe that comments have come out from politicians, doctors, you name it.
“I think people are seeing through that pressure tactic or PR move and fans are getting frustrated with it. Fans want to see baseball and they don’t want to see the B.S. They’re learning the playbook and they’re understanding it and sympathetic to it (the players). I’ve seen fans rally around players, and it’s very refreshing.”
It might have especially struck a chord at a time when many people themselves are trying to get back to work in the country. It highlighted the notion that players were not holding out. As long as the terms of the March agreement were met — meaning fully prorated salaries — they were ready.
“I don’t know who underestimated the unity of our group, but I believe all the players are a band of brothers and we’re all in this together,” Iannetta said. “We understand where we came from. We came from the shoulder of the players before us. They gave us the ability to play under the landscape that we have now. It’s our duty to do that for the people that come after us. Our union understands that.”
The union can credit three words for fueling its own solidarity while bringing in another huge constituency — the fans.
“I wish we could take more credit for it,” Iannetta said. “It just happened.”