I keep thinking about this quote from It’s Always Sunny…in Philadelphia. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time and is chock-full of iconic lines. For those of you that haven’t seen it, the show is an absurd comedy and should truly, truly not be used for life guidance. Still, there’s one scene—which has become a viral meme—that is stuck in my head right now. Mac says, “I’m playing both sides so that I always come out on top”. A hilarious line that I feel like is being repeated every time I hear someone say “you know, the players are to blame too”.
Labor negotiations are complicated. We all know that, and there have absolutely been situations in pro-sport CBA conflicts that both sides carried blame. That’s not the case with the MLB-MLBPA arrangement. When Rob Manfred—laughing like his favorite activity is crushing the souls of baseball fans—stood up at the podium near Roger Dean Stadium to announce that the first two series of the season have been canceled, he did everything he could to push the fiction MLB public relation’s department created on the last day of February. That the owners did everything they could and the players completely changed their tone after a night of productive negotiations. He stared into the camera, assuring fans that if it was up to him and the owners, baseball would be being played right now. Unfortunately, the players have ridiculous requests like a fair labor agreement. His hands are tied.
Only, it is up to him and the owners. The players’ offer may look to some fans like a massive ask. After all, the owners are already agreeing to historic jumps in the pre-arbitration pool and minimum salary—why get greedy? The problem with viewing the conflict in this way is that it is based on the assumption that the prior agreement was at least close to fair, which it wasn’t. If the owners dropped everything and agreed to every single ask the MLBPA has, the next CBA would still be an extremely pro-owner deal. The past couple of decades have seen a huge drop in player salaries as compared to league revenue. As shown in the below tweet by @MylesNelsonPL of PitcherList.com, 2019 saw the players getting just 38.67% of league revenue, a nearly 20% drop from 55.34% in 2001. The players are simply asking for a fair deal.
The topic that the two sides are furthest apart on is the competitive balance tax. Manfred retains that the teams view it as the only way to limit teams in big markets from crushing those in smaller markets, which is, technically, its intent. There are a few slight issues in this outlook, however. Firstly, those big market teams aren’t just not overspending, they’re underspending. The teams use the tax as a pseudo-salary cap, dipping below it every few years to reset their tax bill. Yankee fans know this all too well, as they’ve dealt with Hal Steinbrenner dipping below it every few years to the point that the team had to pay more in trades last deadline to avoid taking on salary.
The other issue is that framing it as a way to maintain competitive balance implies both that the owners in the lower markets cannot afford to pay more than they currently are and that a revenue-sharing mechanism does not already exist that helps distribute money to the owners. It asks as if Bob Nutting, who is worth $1.1 billion, just doesn’t have the money to spend in free agency because his team plays in Pittsburgh. Finally, it also completely ignores the fact that the CBT thresholds have, similarly to player salaries, not kept pace with league revenue in recent years. Manfred told fans to look at the “pattern of CBT increases” in the recent, insanely pro-owner agreements. Baseball America’s JJ Cooper did, and the results shouldn’t shock you.
Of course, the owners want to maintain the patterns of the two agreements. That’s why the players are holding strong right now. The last two agreements have been horrible. Yes, the players have agreed to them, but you can’t say “Well, why did they agree to them if they were so bad?” and then turn around and say “Why don’t they just agree to this deal?”
Baseball fans need to realize that this is not a “both sides” situation. One side is locking the other out. One side refused to respond for 43 days. One side tried to sneak in demands in the footnotes of their proposal at the eleventh hour. Painting this as just “billionaires vs. millionaires” is not fair. The players are fighting for both the guys who will never see that big payday and the superstars. But, guess what? It’s not the numbers that matter. It’s about worth.
The players earn those paychecks because that’s what the market dictates. They deserve their share because no one else on this planet can do what they do at the level they do it. Do they play a game for a living? Yes. But, if MLB brought in a flock of replacement players, fans would be in an uproar. On the other hand, no one would notice if the owners were replaced by orangutans trained to sign checks.
Hilariously, Manfred maintains that owning an MLB team is a bad investment. To that ridiculous notion, I ask: Then why not sell? If teams are bleeding money, why are zero teams on the market right now? And why is it that when a team does go on the market, they almost always sell for more than Forbes values them? Are owners sticking it through for the love of the sport? If so, why don’t they meet the players’ offer? You know, for the love of the game.
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The owners can meet the current difference between proposals with cash in between their couch cushions. Hell, they could probably meet the difference by just selling said couch. They entered negotiations with the same goal as they met the last two times around: to crush the union. Their entire approach has been predatory and strong-arming, and fans need to see through their lies. They never intended to reach an agreement on time, only to try to win a PR war. They are canceling games. They are putting the future of this sport at risk.
MLB owners are a group of billionaires with incomprehensible wealth who only see this sport as a way of amassing even more. They see these negotiations not as a way to strike a fair deal, but as a fight to win or lose. That’s why Manfred referred to the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal”. Fans need to stop separating Manfred from the owners: he is their mouthpiece. He says what they’re thinking. They genuinely do not care about what’s best for baseball or its fans, only their wallets.
There is just one side in this situation. The fans and the players are one and the same. Every young baseball fan imagines playing MLB baseball. The players are just fans who get to live out those dreams. They are us, and they deserve our support.
Featured Photo: Jon Heyman / Twitter