December 3, 2023

A Letter to Fans About the Lockout, or, The View From Left Field

March 2, 2022 by · 2 Comments 

I would prefer to have ever Major League sports franchise operated and funded by a Municipal Sports authority that supports that city’s baseball or basketball team with luxury taxes on high end real estate in the city. And furthermore, in my book, baseball’s ownership mostly voted for Trump, whereas only a large chunk of the players did. So my sympathies lie on the left side of the economic ledger, and I doubt I would have much to say to any of the baseball elite over a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

But as regards the latest attempt to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in baseball, one that will spell out the economic architecture of the game for the next six years, the players have been the children in the room. Their bargaining positions from the outset have been counter-productive and their rhetoric in support of their positions even more so. By contrast, Commissioner Rob Manfred, has been professional, articulate and clear-headed.

For example, the players proposal for setting the Competitive Balance Tax at $245 million for 2022, when the existing tax was $210 for 2021 was a non-starter. It was collective bargaining for dummies. “Hey guys, let’s ask for some really stupid amount and the owners will have to meet us halfway.”

Sometimes those dummy books actually make sense. And after three months, the owners did begin to cave and raised the amount for the competitive balance tax in 2022 to $220 million—not far from the mid-point between the two parties. The amount would escalate to $226 million in the later years of the CBA. And despite the ask by the MLBPA seeming a bit far-fetched in other areas, they won increases in the minimum salary for non-free agent players and an additional bonus pool for arbitration eligible players. These and other wins were evidence of ample “give” by the owners on the major economic issues. It was time for the MLBPA to declare victory, and time for everyone to take the field at the end of March shouting, “Let’s Play Two.”

But no. The players said they were not happy. They spat on the owner’s last and final offer on the extra day of negotiations. In response, MLB cancelled the first eight games of the season, and there we sit.

What is more concerning than the petulance of the players in the face of the measured professionalism of Commissioner Manfred, is the stance of the baseball writers who have egged the players on from the beginning. One of the least rational positions by the players was on revenue sharing—the system where a small portion of television revenues are re-distributed (as in socialist countries) from large market teams to small market teams. The players believe the redistribution of these monies is at the cost of larger free agent salaries.

For example, if the Yankees have more money because they don’t have to pay television revenue money into a redistribution pot, and if the amount of money they can spend on salaries jumps to $245 million before any penalty is paid to small market teams, then the rich players—those who have reached free agency–are going to have more money spent on them by teams like the Yankees at the top end of the “pyramid.”

Did the writers note any downside to the CBA provisions on revenue sharing? Would the loss of revenue make baseball in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh untenable? Would it spell the collapse of small market franchises who don’t have a modest payroll boost to help them compete? Would those franchises become perennial cellar-dwellers like the old Washington Senators who left DC twice? A deafening silence on that perspective.

Why do the baseball writers portray the players favorably? Do they need their approval to interview them after the lockout and throughout the season? Are they afraid to piss them off. No, the MLBPA proposals are reasonable and sound says Dayn Perry, on the CBS Sports web site. He wrote there, on February 3, saying, “the union has very clear and eminently justifiable reasons for wanting to discuss revenue sharing,” as part of the new CBA. He elaborated saying, “Small market teams get so much money from revenue sharing that they have little incentive to invest in player payroll.”

Maybe someone can explain to me how a person with less money in their pocket–the small market teams who get less from revenue sharing–can and will pay more for dinner–pay more for free agents. Because in my world, rolling out such logic with a straight face means we are watching the sports writers suck up to the players. I am not saying that Dayn Perry and the rest of the sports writers repeat the worst jokes told by players and laugh heartily at them. I am not saying that they tell the players their farts smell absolutely wonderful as does the clubhouse generally. But I am saying they lack objectivity in their reporting of the facts.

But the good news is that the owners still have all the cards, and they have someone speaking for them who is savvy and knows how to play the game. Not that I am saying that having a player like Max Scherzer on the player’s bargaining committee is like having Baby Huey set the price for lollipops. No, his trade in a massive salary dump by the Washington Nationals is not coloring his objectivity. And Bryce Harper wanting to stay with mommy and daddy when he was playing in Hagerstown, wasn’t being a baby either. These guys are all grownups. They are not les enfants terrible, who have been driven around by their parents to every showcase in the fifty states since they were twelve. No, they the economic everyman, Joe Lunch Bucket, just working for a living.

My personal negotiating position is somewhere between these two poles. Take the game away from the filthy rich completely and let the cities where the game is played control who plays for them and how much they pay them. And if you cannot do that, then make it mandatory that after a reasonable amount of time for negotiation, the two sides will appoint a professional—as Clinton did in 1995, to conduct binding arbitration between the two parties. And then after a short time for that person to reach a fair bottom line, it is time to get on with the games. Both proposals are very clear are eminently justifiable, especially the last one.


2 Responses to “A Letter to Fans About the Lockout, or, The View From Left Field”
  1. Paul Dunn says:

    So, it’s all the players fault. The value of baseball franchises over the past five
    years (with the exception of Miami) has accelerated. In that same period, players salaries have dropped. Manfred is a mouth piece for the owners. What the owners want is total control of the game.

  2. Ted Leavengood says:

    Paul, The average pay of players has dropped because the minimum salary has remained relatively stagnant since the last CBA in 2017. That CBA did little to raise it over its run–$507 million to $535 million. That helped those teams like the Rays and A’s whose roster is made up almost exclusively of players making the league minimum or an arbitration-set salary. They trade anyone else to the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers–the rich teams, when the reach year six. The vast majority of players are playing in their first six years. According to Baseball Reference, only 27 percent of all players in 2021 were more than 30 years of age. Look at the roster of one of the richer teams, the Chicago White Sox. They have five players who are being paid high end salaries: Lynn, Keuchel, Hendrix, Grandal, and Abreu. Or take one of the older teams whose salaries are higher, the San Francisco Giants. Cueto and Posey are making slightly more than $20 million annually, but they only have three other players over $10 million. Every team is using cheaper players, which is why so many free agents end up siting on the outside looking in in March. The owners are offering a minimum salary at $700 thousand in 2022 that rises to $740 in 2026. THE MLBPA offer is $725 to $765, not drastically more. Wherever they agree, the new number will benefit far more players than all the bs about where the Competitive Balance Tax is set. And that is because most of the players who are 31-40 are more injury prone, on the decline, and want lots more money. The biggest hurdle to a new CBA is the Competitive Balance Tax, which only impacts a small number of players and teams. Since its inception in 1995, when it was set at $117 million, it rose to $210 in 2017, a steady rise of about $25 million per CBA. The players now want it to increase $35 million–in their latest offer and go up from there. That demand is not realistic unless you buy the notion that the owners are making so much more money, and the game as a whole and need to share it. All jacking up the CBT will do is make a couple dozen players much richer. I don’t care about the owners or the rich players. To me they are both full of it, but the owners at least have an articulate negotiator working the deal. The players who are working the deal are mostly guys over 30 who want to work a better deal for a small group of players–themselves.

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