And here we go. Not with games. Not with deadlines. Not with anything fun or interesting or joyful. No, here we go with what baseball seems to do best–labor disputes.
Yesterday, the owners voted to send a plan over to the players on reopening the game. There are details in there about scheduling, travel, and all that, but what overshadows them all is the fact that the owners have voted to split revenue 50/50 with the players for the 2020 season. Which, on the face of it, seems like an interesting idea. However, when you put that in front of the players they only hear two words.
And as long as the players’ union has any teeth, any real say, there’s not going to be a salary cap. Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich, who have been on this story for the last month or so, quickly had an article out where Tony Clark, the head of the players’ union, reiterated that fact. Ownership doesn’t believe it’s a cap, just that salaries should be reduced by whatever rate revenues are and it is only for one year. They may have a point there, but there’s a strong likelihood players aren’t going to see it that way.
To be fair, they probably shouldn’t. Tara and I talked about this point at the end of Gateway this week, but what it boils down to is if teams will barely raise salaries (and some even cut) when the game is awash in revenue, why should the players now get on board when the sharing is sacrifice? Why are the billionaires now singing the “we’re all in this together” tune when the sale of BAMTech and other major revenue sources didn’t really move the needle when it came to what people are being paid?
Let’s be clear–the players aren’t asking for their full-year salary for half a year of work. That was part of the original agreement, where the players waived suing for breach of contract when they weren’t paid for games that didn’t happen. So if a player was making $16 million (thanks to NicholasBarnard on Twitter for illustrating this in a conversation we had), they plan to get $8 million this year (assuming 81 games). The owners are now saying that, when they agreed to that, they expected the revenue stream of tickets and fan attendance. Since they aren’t going to have that, they want that player to get, say, $4 million for the year instead of $8.
Again, I get it, there’s a lot of money going out and not a lot coming in for owners right now. They probably are having to make some tough decisions and, depending on how big their nest egg was or how much they were leveraged with debt, things could be getting very ugly. However, in all fairness, that’s not the fault of the players and it is difficult to make that a sticking point for the return of the game. After all, you’d rather get something than nothing, right? (Though maybe not, given that a lost season would reduce expenses as the players won’t get paid past that early advance they received.)
Players are worried about more than money, of course. Washington reliever Sean Doolittle had a great thread lining out all the health concerns that he has and it remains to be seen if the MLB plan would address all of these concerns. It would be totally fair for them not to want to take the field until they are sure that all the precautions are being met, adequate testing is being provided, and they are at fairly low risk of contracting COVID-19. While there would be a portion of baseball fans that would think they are cowering in fear, aren’t real men, yada yada yada, not playing because of legitimate health concerns would be a fair approach.
However, there’s no way that most people aren’t going to think that the real reason is money, and in this battle, players tend to lose because we know what they make and we know who they are. Could you name all 30 MLB majority owners? There’s no way. Even when you think you could, like Derek Jeter in Miami, he’s not actually the controlling owner. (The actual guy calling the shots is named Bruce Sherman, though obviously Jeter is the public face.) You also don’t know what teams are making. If you knew an owner was pocketing, say, $20 million a year, would it be easier to blame them? We know they are making a lot of money, but that’s a bit nebulous. The players are our direct link to the game and that’s who usually gets the ire.
The players are in a corner here, but unlike in the past, they can now get their story out directly. There are a lot of articulate players that can put out the reasoning behind any breakdown in negotiations. While they won’t win over everyone, there’s a lot more people that already default to the player point of view. They can handle what comes their way if they stand strong.
Hopefully there can be some resolution. Baseball would be absolutely foolish (something it knows WAY too much about) if it let the game not come back because of financial reasons. (Health is, of course, a different story.) Being the only game in town, when it comes to TV, would be huge.
So why am I really afraid they are going to blow it?