Major League Baseball is talking about a plan to start the 2020 season in July. They began leaking details over the Mother’s Day weekend, before officially entering into discussions with the players on Tuesday.
However, a simple plan does very little toward bringing games back. Without an agreement between team owners and the players, we’re not getting on the diamond anytime soon.
MLB is grabbing headlines and Twitter buzz by leaking details like an 82 game season, 14 team playoffs, and the universal DH. It’s cheap fodder that makes for somewhat interesting hypotheticals, but it completely ignores the core issues at hand – player safety and compensation. The league’s goal is pretty clear – start getting fans excited about baseball coming back, so that if players don’t agree to the owner’s terms, the players will be the scapegoats. “We wanted to give you baseball,” the benevolent billionaires will cry, “but the greedy players wouldn’t do it!”
This is, in a word (or two), horse shit. Talking about universal designated hitters instead of talking about how to guarantee player, coach, and staff safety, is a total sham. Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle articulated all this very clearly in a pitch-perfect twitter thread, which you should read.
The league seems to have gotten the message that safety protocol during a pandemic bares thought, as they sent an 80 page memo about just that to the players on Tuesday.
Like so many labor disputes, compensation is a key factor
The other big sticking point here is a question of compensation. In late March, the players union and the owners reached an agreement that the players would receive prorated salaries for the season. So if they play 82 games instead of 162, they make 50.6% of their salary for the season. Fair enough.
Now, owners are reneging on that and trying to negotiate a 50/50 revenue split. Jeff Passan floats out some potential figures of what that difference could look like in real dollars, though doing that math is a bit tricky since owners do not really reveal much info about exactly where their revenue comes from. Suffice to say, the actual dollar amounts might be similar for this season.
However, the players union will have no interest in agreeing to a revenue sharing deal. As their president Tony Clark said:
“A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period. This is not the first salary-cap proposal our union has received. It probably won’t be the last. That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past — and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days — suggests they know exactly how this will be received. None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season — which continues to be our sole focus.”Tony Clark via The Athletic
Baseball has never had a salary cap, and the players union wants to keep it that way. They’re wary of giving into owners and allowing them to set a new precedent that will no doubt end up with less cash flowing from the owner’s pockets to the player’s pockets in the years ahead.
Owners are banking on fans blaming players
The very annoying thing about what the owners are doing is that it may work with some people. Fans are starved for sports. By leaking their plans on a sleepy Sunday night at basically the two month mark of quarantine, they sorta struck ground first. If players do not agree to terms – no matter how drastically those terms would effect their pay structure going forward – there’s a good chance that we won’t have baseball, and that many fans will hold players accountable. The owners will take a hit for a year, but are far better equipped to hold out for longer than the players. Not every player in MLB makes millions of dollars a season; every owner, on the other hand, is wealthy as fuck.
A lot of fans see a labor dispute featuring a bunch of ‘overpaid’ ballplayers and have a gut reaction of ‘what the hell are they complaining about? they get paid to play a game for a living!” And you know, sure. That’s very true, and so many of us would love the opportunity to have our pay cut from $10 million a year to $5 million, or even from $1 million to $500k.
But if the players see their earnings go down, where does that money go? Does it mean ticket prices will go down? Beer prices? Food? Will it all of a sudden be possible for a family of four to go a game and not be out a couple hundred bucks? Of course not.
If players make less money, it only means the owners are keeping more of it.
Don’t fall for ownership’s bullshit. They could never earn another dollar in their lives and probably be able to ride out a few lifetimes of pandemics in custom-built yachts.
As Blake Snell explains, taking a greater risk by playing during a pandemic should not be accompanied by a pay cut.
Polling shows that Americans’ attitudes toward labor unions have been increasing steadily over the past 10 years. In recent years, striking workers across the country – including teachers, nurses, grocery store workers, and many others – have received a lot of public support. This is a sign that an increasing number of Americans have grown tired of payment structures where CEOs and bosses continued to take home exorbitant profits while average workers struggle to make rent.
A labor dispute between millionaires and billionaires seems a little absurd in an era where the working class hasn’t seen their wages increase in about 40 years. But it doesn’t mean there isn’t a clear team to side with.
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