The struggle between the owners and the players of the MLB fueled by a fundamental gap


TORONTO – A common misconception about the impasse between Major League Baseball and its players is that it is simply a fight for money and that there is a good compromise in terms of dollars which will save the 2020 season.

You know, middle ground.

At its most basic level, of course, fair enough, but only if you really look at things in a vacuum. Really, the dispute is much more fundamental, the owners claiming a percentage of the total compensation and the union standing firm on the distribution by match that the parties agreed in the roadmap for the pandemic of March 26.

The distinction is crucial, as the former significantly changes the financial framework for sport, with the potential to set a lasting precedent, and the latter maintains the established value of work in play, an essential principle for the union.

As a result, “they’re not even in the same room,” said Greg Bouris, director of communications for the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1998 to 2018, who now runs a consulting firm, Power X Communications, and is director of undergraduate sports. management program at the University of Adelphi.

“Right now, there are two silos,” he continues. “Baseball is trying to negotiate lower wages. And the players say, “Pay us the number of games you can pay us prorated.” … They don’t talk about the same structure and they will never reach an agreement until they get the same page with structure. ”

Therefore, unless there is a sudden retirement on one side or the other, the challenge of trying to save the season is not about finding common ground per se, but rather about building a path around the roadblock, which in the present circumstances will be remarkably difficult.

The main need on the player side is relatively simple – to safeguard the integrity of the guaranteed contract. From the moment a player arrives in the majors, he learned that “so many players have sacrificed so much to preserve the players’ right to a guaranteed contract that once he has signed this contract, he cannot take less than what the contract provides. Explains Bouris.

Given how blatantly preyed on gamers have been for decades, it is easy to see why. The MLBPA is the only Big Four union in North American sports not to be broken by its respective league, and although you may view MLB tactics in the past two months as an attempt to do so, they instead have to help strengthen players why their solidarity is so essential.

Updating their services now “opens a door that will never close,” says Bouris. “And whoever says it would be ridiculous. I see a lot, well, that could be a one-time exception. No. If it happens once, you know it will happen again. … You are mistaken if you think that you will recover it. ”

What – or who – drives things on the owner side is less clear.

Commissioner Rob Manfred – who negotiated the first baseball drug testing program and collective agreements with players in 2002, 2006 and 2011 before taking over from retired Bud Selig in 2014 – “knows the players better they don’t know it themselves, ”says Bouris.

He’s considered the bad guy in all of this, but remember, he’s ultimately an employee of the owners.

“The offers presented by Major League Baseball, each one, Rob knows that there is no way for players to accept this,” he said. “Either (the owners) or he assumed that the union may not have been unified, that it was split up or weak, but I just couldn’t see anything in these offers (that they proposed) other than they pleaded with the players. to work at a discount because everyone is out of work. ”

In business, even if it’s unpleasant, it’s like that.

The collective agreement expires in December 2021. There is no guarantee for next year in the middle of the pandemic. It was a good time to check for weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

But there is a calculated resourcefulness, and then there is a greedy carelessness, and threatening to cancel the season five days after having “unequivocally” guaranteed that there would be one which would certainly be considered as the latter.

This led Bouris to join those who think that a “very powerful vocal minority” of owners “did not intend, from March, taking into account the economic structure of their sport, to play games without supporters in the stands ”.

“I think something happened along the way, probably more from central baseball, maybe from a few teams, that we can maybe soften things up so that in the summer (a season can take place ) ”, Explains Bouris. “The first thing that came to my mind in marketing and baseball, I said,” Wow, this is going to be amazing. Baseball can begin on July 4. What could be more incredible? We have been locked up for four months. It’s the rise of the Phoenix. ”

“I think they’ve seen it, and then the owners say, ‘Yes, but we generate 50, 60 and in the case of some teams, 70% of our revenue from the door, so unless the players do it for free, we don’t want it. ”

The course of action taken by the owners certainly supports this perspective.

They started by floating the idea of ​​a 50-50 income split, a test balloon that immediately exploded in their face, then moved on to alternative models offering essentially the same thing, a similar percentage of their prorated wages.

Each was leaked in a calculated attempt to force players to accept, “mostly because none of them have experienced this before,” said Bouris. “Maybe they could be ashamed or guilty or strike some kind of sympathetic deal with the players by turning the public’s venom on the players saying,” I can’t believe you’re not going to play baseball rather than cash. That’s why they played these hands. ”

Financial pressure on homeowners offers another explanation.

The teams at the bottom of the pay scale can only manage with national and local television with merchandising revenues, but the clubs that spend the most on players cannot.

The New York Yankees, for example, had a projected 2020 payroll of $ 241.8 million as of March 28, according to the Associated Press. Even if they were responsible for half that amount in 81 games, there is still a lot of ground to cover without selling a single ticket, a hot dog or beer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers ($ 221 million) and the Houston Astros ($ 207 million) are both on their heels, while seven other clubs have payrolls of at least $ 167 million or more. The Toronto Blue Jays are $ 108 million, while six clubs have less than $ 100 million, with the Pittsburgh Pirates leading with $ 54.4 million.

Without insufficient income, homeowners must be liquid enough to cover outflows. For some, their value is directly related to their equity and they may not have sufficient cash reserves to close the gap. Their other businesses may also be under duress. There are limits to the amount of debt they may want to take on. They may not want to sell a stake in the club to cover current deficits.

Any of these problems would help explain the owners’ current position.

Based on their public comments, Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick (“I think the other leagues are right and (a salary cap) largely avoids these labor disputes”) and the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals , Bill DeWitt Jr. (“the industry is not very profitable, to be completely honest”) are likely to be on the side of the hawks, as are the higher salary clubs.

“They can, at the end of the day, say, ‘Yes, we can play for fun and I’m going to lose a lot of money. But you know what? I’m going to lose less if we don’t play. I’m going to pay my staff and all that, but I prefer not even to play, let’s come back next year, “said Bouris. “I think it was their intention until someone saw that, ‘Oh my God, July 4, apple pie, it’s us, we’re going to put on this white hat and be this great institution that we profess to be and this is a great marketing opportunity. And I think they’ve gotten ahead of themselves. Then some of the owners said, “We can’t do that, guys, unless the players reveal the talent. ”

“And that’s why we have two different conversations. ”

And that’s why it has become a zero-sum game, rather than a back-and-forth give-and-take. Payroll deferrals, redeeming discounts now for a similar value on the road, or something like that can provide a creative path forward.

Instead, someone has to take a break to save the season.


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