I think the players are more than just the employees. They also are stewards of the game and they have a chance in the next few weeks to renew positive nostalgic ties with baseball and Americana while creating new fans that will ultimately lead to more revenue streams that set them, future players and the sport up in a better fashion.
Here is what I don’t think: The players are greedy. That designation was tired when it was said about Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax and Reggie Jackson. I get it you played baseball as a kid and think you would do it for free as a profession. You wouldn’t. No one works for free.
You think the money would be better spent on nurses and teachers. Agreed. Redirect all you spent that helped make MLB an $11 billion industry last year to nurses and teachers. If there is less money in the game, players will make less.
You think the players should be grateful. Most are. But also we should be grateful. I watched the owners’ replacement baseball folly in spring 1995 and sorry to break it to you, but you were not one better coach in high school away from the majors. These are the best players distilled through a Darwinian system that separates those who can and cannot. As a society we have decided to value this particular rare skill set. You and corporations paid the $11 billion. Owners gave roughly half of that to players, as they did pretty much every year before a pandemic. No one had a gun to anyone’s head to spend it.
You think the players’ salaries have priced you out of tickets. Except the Orioles and Tigers cut their payrolls by $100 million each from 2017-20. Were either lowering ticket prices to reflect the savings and certitude of a worse product?
Add it all up and returning to the “greedy” player feels like wool uniforms — something that should have been retired long ago.
The owners have gotten used to winning negotiations, the last collective bargaining agreement for sure, with the minor leagues, with umpires, with getting caps on the draft and international spending. They have done this with a strategy more jackhammer than stiletto. This is what any business does — tries to get the most production for the least cost.
The players stood up to the jackhammer this time. It is not just that after years of rising revenues and franchise values that the owners now are asking for the players to help lessen their financial burden/loss. It is that the first official offer, among other things, asked the players who make the most to be walloped.
On its surface — like believing high ticket prices are due to high player salaries — that makes sense. Many businesses are asking top earners for cuts to spare lower earners. But baseball is not other businesses.
Players endure capped systems in either the draft or internationally at the entry level. They have to work through the minors, often for several years, making wages often below poverty levels. Those that reach the majors cannot seek an open market for six or, if their service time is manipulated, seven seasons (think those who have had their service manipulated trust owners right now?). In the first three years teams can pay major leaguers whatever they want, usually close to the minimum. The next three-to-four years the teams have an arbitration system that, yes, begins to pay players better, but within confines and without a free market providing true value in what often are players’ most productive seasons.
In recent years, analytic front offices have smartly — but coldly — figured out how to get similar production for less cost, lowering many bars for arbitration eligible players and free agents. One of the strategies is to keep the pay down on one end with all of the rules, then say the player is too old to get real money when he is finally free.
Those that navigate all of that to command lucrative contracts are being asked to incur the brunt of the savings for owners. And, as opposed to owners and their heirs who have decades of runway to make back losses, players who get in 10-plus years in The Show are a small percentage.
Also, whatever a player earns, we all will know it. We have no idea what owners make, which is central to the union complaint. MLB is crying poor but the Players Association is dubious. I have no idea if this is really crippling this year for the owners, or if players could be convinced of it even if true.
But I do believe that within their suspicion, players must find a way to solution. Perhaps that is playing chicken and getting the owners to pay them the full prorated share. But it can’t be misreading that, which leads to no games, which would mean no salary now and less in the future. It would be calamitous 1) if MLB was approved by political and medical leaders to play amid the pandemic and didn’t for financial reasons when unemployment and monetary anguish is so high in the country, 2) if MLB didn’t play and every other major sport got back, 3) MLB failed to grab the goodwill and potential for long-term financial benefit by being the first sports league back and do it on July 4 weekend.
Yes, the owners are bigger stewards. Still, the players cannot let this all burn. They are not greedy. But they must be big-picture thinkers and not let 2020 money blind them to the long-term costs without games.