Posted on

You just knew baseball’s lengthy labor peace was too good to be true

You just knew baseball’s lengthy labor peace was too good to be true You just knew baseball’s lengthy labor peace was too good to be true

As word is spreading about teams and groups trying to get some ball played this summer on local diamonds, ironically, the sport’s biggest entity, Major League Baseball, sits on the sidelines with no start date to a modified 2020 season in sight.

It’s been just over 25 years since MLB games were lost due to a work stoppage and almost 18 years since the last real threat of a stoppage. The players and owners were overdue to have a massive battle of wills. As fans of a certain age know, there was a time you couldn’t go five years without ugly disputes happening.

It’s just too bad this battle is boiling at a time where you’d think current events would allow for a cordial meeting of the minds that at least produces a get-us-by 2020 season with some substance to it.

It’s baseball. Should’ve known better.

Today’s squabbles are just a precursor to what could be an all-out war when the current collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2021 season. Players are galvanizing, owners are letting everyone know how financially devastating the coronavirus season of 2020 is going to be and fans, who may not even be able to attend a game if there is a 2020 season, are stuck in the middle, wondering how the sides could be fighting over insane amounts of money.

In the short term, I tend to side with the players in the dispute over 2020. Not that I’m an expert, I can just go by what I’ve read from MLB’s top reporters. Basically, the players want their full pro-rated salary based on the number of games played, which it seems the owners agreed to back in March. But the owners now insist they are entitled to some concessions due to the likelihood there won’t be fans in the stands for much of the season, if not the entire season.

It’s tough to go back on an agreement. If the players were indeed promised a full pro-rated salary, I understand why they’re more than perturbed at the moment.

What relatively-little revenue MLB could get this year is dependent on the playoffs. As such, proposals are out there to expand the playoffs. More playoff teams and playoff games equals more television, merchandise and advertising revenue that can be recovered during this makeshift season. Only problem is, fears of another wave of illness in the fall that could again shut the sport down has owners turning to the players for concessions just in case.

If no agreement is reached soon, commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to mandate a 48- to 52-game regular season that will seem pretty useless.

I don’t know much, but I know MLB team owners got to be billionaires for a reason. They’re not stupid businessmen. They should be able to find a way to appease the workers and their consumers in one bad economic year without their franchises going under.

As for the long-term impasse looming after next year, it’s difficult to pick a side. Obviously, the economic effects of this year will be felt next year and beyond at the Major and Minor League levels.

Rather than picking a side and figuring out who needs to cave, maybe it’s easier to simply express how fans would like Major League Baseball to look once labor peace is achieved.

MLB is the last of the four major professional leagues in North America to be without a hard salary cap and it’s not hard to understand why the players don’t want one when they see Bryce Harper getting a 13-year, $330 million contract from Philadelphia, Manny Machado getting a 10-year, $300 million deal from San Diego and pitcher Gerrit Cole inking a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees. Why would they risk killing their dreams of getting that kind of deal?

How many labor forces willfully say, “you know what, let’s limit our individual earning power for the good of the company?”

It’s also easy to see why veteran free agents who are still valuable but a bit past their prime are frustrated with their inability to land contracts reflecting their past success.

The fact that two of those three aforementioned mega deals didn’t come from the Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers only helps the players’ arguments that all franchises are capable of spending money to get marquee players. Many just choose not to.

While it’s often been said that evil, rich, hated empires –– like the Yankees and Dodgers –– aren’t a bad thing because people watch either to join the bandwagon or to see the bullies get beat, this fan favors more level playing fields and finds leagues more interesting when every club has a shot and needs to make sound player-personnel decisions, not just piles of cash, to win.

While it hasn’t always seemed like it, baseball has been pretty good in that regard in recent years, with the exception of the Yankees winning the World Series four times in five years from 1996-2000. Since then, 13 different franchises have won the World Series. Little Kansas City got there in back-to-back years and won it the second time in 2015. Even the league’s smallest-market team, the Milwaukee Brewers, were a win away from getting there in 2018 and have shown they can draw 3 million fans per year.

But the league’s current state is concerning. In 2019, four teams won more than 100 regular-season games, led by the Dodgers with 106 and the Houston Astros with 107, neither of which won the title. The Washington Nationals did after winning only 93. On the flip side, the Royals lost 103, the Miami Marlins lost 105, the Baltimore Orioles lost 108 and the Detroit Tigers lost an astounding 114. Those teams didn’t hide the fact they tried to lose, which is not fair to their fans or to those on their big league rosters, who may only have limited chances to experience the thrill of a pennant race in careers that have no guarantees in length. That black mark is on the owners.

Maybe I’m just dreaming, but I’d still like to think players would find their Major League careers more enjoyable if more teams were truly in the hunt each year, which in turn, would lead them to be more aggressive in making that free-agent splash that could get them over the hump. Maybe more teams in the hunt would bring more fans to every team’s stands and to their local TV and radio broadcasts, bringing more money to spend, and players wouldn’t have to limit their choices to New York, Los Angeles or Boston to get their fantasy contract.

Maybe I’ll just have to accept things don’t work that way.

If baseball didn’t kill itself with the strike of 1994-95, the next work stoppage won’t either, but it certainly won’t help the industry in the next couple of years. When you can’t agree to just get on the field during a time you could be giving millions a much-needed positive outlet, it sure doesn’t improve your image.

Matt Frey is the Sports Editor at The Star News.