Yesterday, longtime baseball writer Jayson Stark wrote a “memo” to baseball not to drive off the cliff they are seemingly speeding for. It was good and I encourage you to read it. A line that stuck out to me was:
Two months ago, these two sides hammered out one agreement. Two months later, they can’t even agree on what they agreed on.
If that doesn’t perfectly sum up the MLB Owners and MLB Players Association, then I don’t know what does.
Do the owners even want a deal?
We all — as fans — want baseball in 2020. At this point we don’t care if it’s an 82-game shortened season with expanded playoffs or a round-robin tournament. We just want to watch our guys play real games this summer.
But do the owners want baseball?
I know they say they do. They say they’ll lose billions if no games are played this year. But the proposals they’ve submitted to the Players Association do not indicate they’re looking to make a deal.
The 50-50 split based on 2020 revenue was the first economic media leak. Technically, it wasn’t a proposal because it was immediately shot down by Tony Clark and the PA who said it is the first step to instituting a salary cap. There was also the issue of How much revenue will there be? Owners could not say for sure, they could only estimate.
Then they submitted their first actual proposal this week. A plan that would drastically cut the salary of all players, but more heavily impact the high-paid players in the league. It’s a plan they knew the PA would not go for. It was shot down within hours of being submitted.
What seems fishy about the percent-based plan is that the main goal seems to be to drive a wedge between the “rich” (the minority) and the “poor” (the majority) players. If there is a divide in the PA entering the next CBA negotiations in December 2021, that is good news for the owners.
MLB’s latest proposal will cause infighting among players — which will benefit the owners when it comes time to negotiate the next CBA. pic.twitter.com/sRXs2LS4sj
Owners no-doubt appear to be the more evil of the two sides. For one, they’re the billionaires. They are the ones collecting millions each year from TV contracts, licensing deals, merchandise, ticket sales and concessions. Is it really that difficult for them to “suck it up” this year so the players can get back on the field?
That’s not how they do business. They didn’t get to where they are in life — one of thirty to own a Major League Baseball team — by “sucking it up.” If that’s hard to understand as a fan sitting on your couch who just wants to watch Aaron Judge smash a 440-foot homer or Gerrit Cole strike out 10, then sorry.
I’m starting to believe (conspiracy theory alert) that the owners plan is to not play. That was not the case back in March when they believed sports could safely return after a few week shutdown, but now that 2020 is already going to be a lost revenue year, what if they’re just setting up for the 2021 CBA? Is that so hard to believe?
Are the players even willing to compromise?
Back in late March when the Coronavirus was new and everyone was unprepared for the three months of quarantine ahead, the players agreed to a prorated salary cut based on the number of games played. I’m sure at the time they thought somewhere in the neighborhood of 120-140 games would be played — and with fans in the stands. Obviously things have changed since March 26, the originally scheduled opening day and date the two sides “agreed” on this plan.
Over the next few months as the owners have leaked things through their trusted media sources, we’ve heard players voice their opinions. Blake Snell went viral on Twitch saying he needs to get all his money. Sean Doolittle and others have outwardly expressed their concern about the health and safety protocols. Max Scherzer released a statement this week that said players will not back down from their original agreement in March, especially with the lack of information the owners have given.
To that I ask the players: Are you even willing to compromise?
The question is not Should you be the one to compromise? because there are plenty of arguments that say they should not. But if the only way to play baseball in 2020 is for you to give back a little more money, are you willing to do that? If the answer is no then what are we even doing here?
We have yet to see a proposal from the PA side but supposedly we’ll get one soon. Some have reported that they are going to propose 100 or more games and their full prorated salary. Throwing aside the feasibility of 100-plus games, it seems like the owners and players are sprinting in opposite directions.
The players don’t want to give back more money for the principle of it. Like the owners, they don’t want to get screwed in the next CBA. I get that. Yes, plenty of them make (and have made) millions from guaranteed contracts. But it’s not the Max Scherzers or Mike Trouts that we’re talking about here. It’s the Gleyber Torres’, Aaron Judges and next generation of players that could ultimately suffer.
It’s not just money
Disagreement between the two sides goes beyond money. The health and safety protocols are not ironed-out either (although I think they will be soon after the money is agreed on).
Despite increasing revenues from TV contracts the past decade, the game is losing market share among the public and the two sides do not seem to give a crap.
In the Stark article, he also wrote that baseball never regained its place in American culture after the 1994-95 strike because it turned-off fans. I disagree with him wholeheartedly. Maybe you can look to the strike as a turning point, but baseball losing its spot as “America’s pastime” has been a slow burn.
Baseball has always been regional, but even with the ability to watch from anywhere on any device and talk about the action on social media, that has not changed. MLB will never have the same mass-appeal that the NBA or NFL does. Those sports have put baseball in the rear view mirror as far as “America’s pastime” goes.
Games are now longer than ever and there is less action than there was 25-years ago, never mind 40 or 60-years. I’m not just talking about juiced-up freaks hitting 50-homers a year (although I did love that). We had more home runs than ever before in 2019 and I thought it was utterly boring. The game has been boiled down to the three true outcomes: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. We get a bunch of 3-hour and 39-minute, 4-2 games featuring 5 solo home runs, 24 combined strikeouts and 7 pitching changes. Yippee!
It may sound like I don’t like baseball from everything I just wrote. That is obviously not the case. Whenever baseball returns I’ll be there to watch. But I am not baseball’s problem. The casual sports fan is MLB’s problem, and even if the owners and players agree on the economics (now or after 2021), I don’t see them tuning in.