For just a moment, let’s take our opinions about each side in this debacle out of it and try to agree on one thing: this should have never been public.
Sure, gaslighting the owners exposes them for being the miscreants that many baseball fans have known them to be for years now. Have we forgotten the aftermath of the 1994 strike, where many baseball fans didn’t care about whose fault it was, they were all pissed? The average attendance in baseball was 20% less from 1994 to 1995. Both owners and players (mostly players) were hated for a long while after. God knows where the sport is if not for one home run chase aided by a lot of well-balanced breakfasts with an extra serving of milk (which is not an option to save the sport in 2020).
And let’s not forget: this isn’t an argument that’s solely about a salary cap, arbitration, and trust. This is an argument about financials, in an unprecedented period where the American economy has plummeted, unemployment has risen, and the people that are employed are most likely risking their lives to put food on their own table or, in most cases, keep other people alive. That’s not even mentioning the 100,000+ people that have already passed away due to COVID-19. No matter whose side you’re on, there is always going to be the “millionaires vs. billionaires” argument. If a public fallout about salary caps ended fandom back in 1994, I could only imagine — in a sport that already has trouble marketing itself — how many baseball fans leave their fandom in droves.
Pretending financials do not exist for a moment, what about the sport itself? If there is no 2020 season — half-season, no fans in the stands, umpires and coaches with masks on, etc., who cares, it’s baseball — we would be losing a year of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts (among many others) primes. Some players’ careers will effectively come to an end, whether it’s the 20-year veteran/legend who won’t get a proper sendoff or the many minor leagues who will be forced to move on from the sport because of money.
Considering the NBA and NHL find a way to resume a season that they did not have to resume, if the NFL season starts, if college sports starts, if every sport is playing in some capacity, but there is no 2020 MLB season because of money, that is an awful look for the sport. Moreover, there are going to be a lot of people that don’t care who’s fault it was. And 2020 isn’t even the worst of MLB’s worries. If this entire debacle affects the upcoming 2021-22 labor deal that many already believed long before a national pandemic would result in a lockout, that’s a bigger fallout that I don’t even want to imagine right now.
If we try to figure out things together as opposed to taking sides, it’s more efficient. I think the experience of 10 years ago showed both sides that the game is too important to too many people, and we need to find better ways to accomplish things.Mike Mussina, then-member of the union’s executive board, after MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a labor deal in 2004
What I’m trying to say is this: figure it out or face the consequences. If only life was that easy, but it isn’t. As bad as the scenarios that I just described are, there is a very clear reason why the sport is in this position.
On March 26, it appeared that a deal was done: players would get a full year of service time even if the season was canceled, in exchange for a prorated portion of the salary based on games played (in the most likely scenario, 82 or less) and a very shortened MLB draft. In that same deal, there was a provision that allowed Major League Baseball to renegotiate financials if there were going to be no fans in attendance.
By March 26, the virus was on the way towards its peak. Everything was canceled or closed, and the country was on total lockdown at that point, with no relief in the near future in sight. Even then, before the WHO declared COVID-19 a world pandemic on March 11, there were state-mandated restrictions on gatherings. The Mariners and the California teams would probably have to play in their spring training ballparks. There were talks about sporting events, including March Madness, being held with no spectators. So I’m not sure how either party or anyone in the world for that matter, could have imagined spectators in stadiums anytime soon, much less anytime before 2021. But that was then, this is now.
Back to today: Major League Baseball is a $10+ billion dollar revenue-generating business. The Kansas City Royals were sold for $1 billion this past season, and the Mets for almost $2.6 billion before the Wilpons put an end to that. Additionally, all but one team (the Marlins) made a profit last season. I am not a business major, and I have taken exactly one economics class (in high school) in my life. But I know enough to say that while the pandemic and its effect on the economy will certainly hurt MLB and it’s owners, it will not cripple it (at least not in 2020) and it certainly will not cripple them individually. The argument that the owners will lose such a crippling amount of money with no fans in the stands ($4 billion, they claim in their original presentation) does not sound right.
Even if that is correct (and that’s easily provable with a couple of financial documents), this is a player’s union that has not trusted you since the 1994 debacle. This is the same group of owners that is leaving young players scrambling for low-market extensions well before free agency because owners are petrified of the luxury tax. This is the same group of owners that, instead of just paying minor leagues a living wage, decided that cutting minor league teams and the draft (therefore, taking away opportunities) was the best move. This is the same group of owners that is leaving minor leaguers in the dust already because $400 a week — which would project to around a million for the rest of the year, according to Jeff Passan — is apparently too much for an owner worth $2 billion (not to mention that same owner was willing to throw money at Kyler Murray to come play baseball). Knowing all of that, why should the players suddenly take your word now? Why should the players willingly come forward and bail you out now?
Speaking of the trust between MLB and MLBPA, let’s take what Tony Clark said in his first statement:
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.Tony Clark
If the league and its owners are doing this to get the salary cap and other things that they’ve wanted and gain an edge in the next CBA talks or to try and destroy the union — again, in the middle of a pandemic — then throw everything out the window. What the owners are doing is horrific, not that it isn’t already, and if that is the case, then why is there even an argument. It sounds like a harsh accusation, but it’s a very educated accusation.
There’s so much more that I can say about the baseball owners, but a lot of the things I want to say are already addressed in my colleague Peter Khayat‘s column, so I would suggest reading that.
This tweet is not defied in any way when it comes to this situation. The owners are trying to take a worldwide pandemic that has stopped sports as a whole and turn it into a quick payday from themselves. That’s not right. And yet, there are still people that will chastise the players (and only the players for many) because the players should be sacrificing a paycheck that the rest of the world — except the billionaire owners they are defending — doesn’t get (and, even if it’s not in the same severity as the essential worker, still risking their health).
Even with everything I just stated, that still does not take away from the fact that the sport is in danger. The fact that this entire negotiation is being made public, leaks by the owners, Blake Snell’s comments and all, made it that much worse. No matter how cheap and greedy the owners might be, if there is no baseball in 2020, there is going to be a large population that will blame both. If those reactions are the same as they were in 1994, the sport (already having issues with marketing for the younger generation, and especially urban youth) is in deep trouble.
It’s so tough to come up with a solution for this. On one hand, I would like to see the players not give in to the greedy and malevolent owner’s demands, because that would mean an even worse labor agreement in 2021. On the other hand, it does not behoove the sport of baseball to not have an agreement, have no baseball in 2020 while the other sports are playing, and still make an already bleak 2021-22 look even worse. For the record, if the issues were solely about the health and safety of players, coaches, etc., then this is not a discussion, because, at the end of the day, that is the most important thing. But that’s not what this is about.
I implore Rob Manfred to take leadership, say enough is enough, try to get this back behind closed doors, and get both sides to come up with something. I implore the owners to come back to Earth, learn that using this time to get more money that you don’t need or get a headstart on the 2021 labor negotiations, benefits nobody. And I implore that both parties come up with something, anything, to make sure that you do not mess this up, not only for the players, not only for the fans, but for the future of baseball.
Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14).