What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Today’s Take: The baseball lockout Is now on the players because the union is full of shit.
Yeah, the owners started this with the lockout. Yeah, Commissioner Rob Manfred is a boob. In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning.
But something important is getting lost in all the blather. Before I get into this, here’s a few ground rules. Don’t be the person who wants to tell me “nobody watches baseball anymore.” Don’t be the person who wants to cry about what athletes earn in general. Certainly don’t be the person who wants to preach at me with noise like “who cares about sports when we have (insert today’s cause célebré here) happening?”
This is going to be…and stay about…baseball. Specifically, for the entirely of my half-century-plus of being a baseball fan, I’ve seen the owners as a duplicitous pack of money-grubbers who can’t help but shoot themselves in the foot at every turn. The owner have nobody but themselves to blame for exploding salaries; nobody else chased them up the money tree.
That phenomena goes all the way back. The perfect example came in the 2000s when Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf gave a table-pounding speech at the owner’s meetings about how they had to stand together to control exploding player salaries, while at the same time his general manager was in talks to make slugger Albert Belle baseball’s first $50 million player. Let’s face it; guys like that are hard-pressed to get any sympathy from me.
But the script flipped Monday night when the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) rejected the latest offer from Major League Baseball (MLB) to secure a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The bottom line is when the MLBPA and the owner’s resume talks later today, it’s on the player’s to show me they aren’t full of shit.
That’s a historic flip for me. In every other labor stoppage in baseball in my lifetime, I’ve been empathetic with the MLBPA. After all, there’s a reason why I have a Dubsy award given annually for achievements in “cheap” named for a legendary “skin-flint” owner, Charlie Finley. The most recent winner was Major League Baseball for fuck’s sake.
Let me work backward from now until last Monday in order to best explain this. I’ll start with this nugget of pure bullshit.
This has tons of “public relations” value; it makes the players look like they care about “the little guy” when they clearly don’t. But since there are far too many mush-brains out there who won’t do the math, they won’t see the only thing which out-weighs the “PR” value here. I could grow roses on the moon with the fertilizer quotient in that load of manure.
Just look at the numbers.
Take $1 million and divide it by 30 MLB franchises. Right there, we’re down to $33,333.33 per team. Divide that by umpteen “workers affected” employed by each franchise, and all of a sudden this magnanimous offer becomes little more than the settlement of those “class-action lawsuits” filed by the lawyers who advertise during day-time television. Like the MLBPA, those lawyers make millions, while everybody who signed up to be part of the suit (like those “workers affected”) gets a check for $4.38.
That begs the question: Why did the MLBPA feel the need for such a “PR” move? Probably because they know their Monday afternoon presser was a “PR” disaster. If you doubt that, there’s a reason why both ESPN and the MLB Network bailed on it during the “question and answer” segment.
Earlier, I mentioned the kind of person you shouldn’t be if you’re going to hit the “Comments” section. If you are one those people who are going to be “pro- player no matter what,” read no further. What follows will be wasted on you.
Let’s start with where the MLBPA isn’t full of shit. They went into this with perfectly reasonable if not downright laudable goals. They wanted to see the younger players get more money, eliminate the encumbrance to free-agency which was the attachment of compensatory draft picks, and to eliminate “tanking;” the practice of a team losing deliberately to shed payroll and ensure higher draft picks.
In response to those demands, MLB and the owners offered to raise the minimum salary from $550,000 per year to $700,000. That’s almost a 30% increase; keep in mind, that’s a big boost for “the little guy.” On top of that, they offered to create a pool worth $20 million dedicated to rewarding the best young players in the game. In many cases, this could easily double the salaries of such players…another nice nugget for “the little guy.” To address the “tanking issue,” the MLB and the owners proposed a five-team draft lottery ergo what the National Basketball Association (NBA) does, and offered a proposal expanding the number of teams which would qualify to play in the post-season.
If you’ve ever been involved in union negotiations, you know two things. First, there’s always a great deal of “give and take” in these sorts of talks, so disagreements on offers is part of the game. Second, you know that viewed in terms of what the MLBPA demanded, what they got from MLB was a pretty damn good offer.
Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying the MLBPA should have rolled over and just taken that deal. That was clearly a move toward settlement made by MLB, and clearly signaled the owners were not digging in for a protracted round of “trench warfare.” But instead of playing “give and take,” the players went “scorched earth” burning every shred of progress that had been made. The players flat-out rejected the deal, and during their press conference, MLBPA president Tony Clark starting throwing fire-bombs at MLB and the owners like “negotiating in bad faith” and “decades-long struggle to break our union.”
Again, if you’ve ever been part of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), you know how inflammatory that rhetoric is. First of all, that offer from MLB is about as distant from “bad faith” as one can get; the MLBPA got strong overtures on everything they wanted. Second of all…where’s this “decades-long” effort to destroy the players union? Baseball hasn’t had a labor stoppage in almost 30 years, and the relationship between the MLBPA and MLB and the owners didn’t get contentious until the flap over salaries during the COVID-shortened season of 2020.
If that fact…in and of itself…isn’t enough to convince you the players poured gasoline on a waning fire, consider that they completely changed their tune.
Granted, the Competitive Balance Tax (the “CBT” or colloquially known as the “Luxury Tax”) was an issue in these negotiations, but it wasn’t the banner under which the MLBPA was supposedly uniting…until Monday. Before that, everything was “the young players” and MLB made an offer which was pretty damn good for them.
If you’re not familiar the “CBT” is a de facto “soft” salary cap. MLB does not have a ceiling for what a team can spend on player salaries. Instead, the CBT sets a threshold which when a team exceeds it terms of total salary, that team has to contribute to a fund which is paid out to teams which generate smaller revenues.
For purposes of this discussion, the CBT is all about “big-salary” players, and the fact this became the MLBPA’s new rallying cry is the hallmark example of how full of shit they are.
Here’s why I’ve flipped on the players. In 2021, the threshold for the the CBT to kick in for a team was $210 million for the 26-man Major League roster. For the new CBA, the players wanted a CBT threshold of $245 million. MLB counter-offered with $220 million. In other words, the MLBPA stormed out of the talks dropping fire-bombs all the way over $25 million which doesn’t matter anyway.
The problem is that in 2021, the exact number of teams (per Sportrac) which exceeded the CBT limit was zero. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the closest, and they were still nearly $35 million below it. In other words, the MLBPA wants me to believe the “big-money” teams are going to spend themselves up to $245 million for rookie/young players?
That’s complete bullshit, and the MLBPA knows it. But, they want to play this game where they think they can piss on my foot and tell me it’s raining. The heavy does of reality here is bloating salaries to get over the CBT threshold is only going to happen for “big-cash” veteran players. No owner now or ever is going to break the bank for a rookie or the 26th guy on the roster.
That’s why I’m not buying what the MLBPA is selling. They just torched a deal which would never hurt the veterans who have already made their money and can afford to miss games. Instead, they’re screwing the player who toiled in the minors last year for likely less than $20,000 and now is losing a chance to play for an expanded major-league minimum because a $220 million CBT threshold isn’t enough for the “big-cash” guys…especially when nobody is close to that payroll anyway!
But to convince me the MLBPA cares about “the little guy,” they started a fund so each stadium vendor can get $4.38. That and five more bucks might actually get you a ball park hot dog. Thanks, but…
That’s why the MLBPA, it’s president Tony Clark, and “big-cash” guys like Mike Trout are completely full of shit; and until they flip the script back to where they were before last Monday, the length of this lockout is 100% on them.
Change my mind.
You can see more of my not-so-popular opinions here.
One of the main takeaways from this impasse is how do we define “negotiating in bad faith”? A standard definition is negotiations by one party with no intentions of reaching a resolution. I would expand that definition to include negotiations that have a threshold so high that it seems impossible to think the other side would ever make that amount of concessions.
The number that has been thrown in our face by MLBPA is that expanded playoffs are guaranteeing the owners 100MM in TV revenue. The players want a piece of that pie “commensurate” in exchange for ratifying. The raise from 550k to 700k in salary minimums and the effect it would have on 3-6 year arbitration cases (let alone the 20MM pool for year 1-3 minimum players) FAR exceeds the threshold for a “commensurate” piece of that pie.
The problem with unions (along with almost everything else in a capitalist economic structure) is that the deal is only “good” if it benefits the top of the pyramid. The Owners latest proposal is reasonable and quite frankly probably has some wiggle room for a counterproposal – say $750k minimum with $25MM in the bonus pool.
The issue is – MLBPA leadership is always going to be veteran players with veteran interests in mind. By definition they don’t care if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. A massive bump in minimums with a substantial bonus pool AND the unintended effect of Arb years starting with a 40% higher water mark forces the owners to spend a SIGNIFICANT amount of $ on MLBPA dues paying members.
Unfortunately – it is being spent on the wrong segment of dues paying members. The post arb players see the 40% bump in the minimum player class and then by their logic want a 40% bump in the top tier too.
The only way this gets accomplished is to get your ass on the field and deliver an outstanding product that grows the game – introduces new revenues and by extension creates a new bargaining paradigm.
Hypothetically, the MLBPA is asking the Owners for a better paid vacation. The owners have offered them 2 weeks in Orlando as opposed to 11 days in Dallas. The MLBPA has said “well, yeah – Orlando is way more attractive to our kids and younger demographic, but it doesn’t move the needle for the adults going.” No counter argument asking for babysitters for 3 nights to improve the quality of life for the grownups on the vacation or anything reasonable.
The MLBPA is basically saying: We want a month on the moon or no deal.
Which side is closer to arguing “in bad faith”?
Has Vegas set an over/under yet on how many games they think will be played this season?
All I can say as a baseball fan is this. Whoever’s to blame, and I blame both sides, this whole shit storm is drumming up some bad memories.