And now for something completely different… Sorry if that conjures up memories of Monty Python and sketch comedy; that is not what is going to happen here. I doubt that anything to follow today even borders on “funny”. What is “completely different” today is a report on the first ever Curmudgeon Central Opinion Poll. Before I get to the poll and the responses let me explain why I did this for the first time, now.
- I never did anything like this before because I never thought that there would be a large enough sample in terms of the respondents to come up with anything meaningful.
- Last week, I had a sense that MLB and the MLBPA were on track to make the 2020 baseball season into a horrible train wreck. [Aside: I thought it would drag on a bit longer before hitting the skids; I did not think it would happen this week.]
- I wanted to be informed of the views and perceptions of people that I have known for years – people I respect for their intelligence and insight – who are full-blown baseball fans. I was not worried about sample size or finding a representative cross-section for the poll. I only wanted to hear from smart people who are fans of baseball. [Aside: If you want to dismiss this effort by saying that I am trying to live in an echo chamber, you are free to do so. That was not my intent and the results to be presented below do not seem to support that assertion.]
My “polling methodology” was about as basic as you can imagine. I sent the same email to 12 people who are readers of these rants and who I have known to be baseball fans for a long time. The shortest acquaintance I have had with anyone on the “polling roster” is 24 years. Here is the email that I sent to each of them:
“I want to pose a question/challenge to you. I will use the ‘result’ in a future Sports Curmudgeon rant without identifying you in any way. If you don’t want to answer, that’s OK too.
“Give me 3 simple declarative sentences to describe what you think of the MLB owners and/or the MLBPA in the midst of their negotiations regarding a restart for the 2020 MLB season.
“If you want to elaborate on any of those 3 simple declarative sentences, please feel free.
“Thanks in advance.”
I got 9 responses from my 12 inquiries; and rather than try to pretend that one can do statistical analysis on a sample size of 9 people, what I intend to do here is to categorize the responses and then present them for anyone to interpret as they will. Since some of the responses made essentially the same point, I have merged some of those answers.
For simplicity sake, I will break down the responses into 4 broad categories:
- Responses that are more favorable toward MLB and the owners
- Responses that are more favorable toward the MLBPA and the players
- Responses that speak to the sport of professional baseball as a whole
- Responses that call for a pox on both houses involved here.
Let me begin with Responses More Favorable to MLB and the Owners:
“With or without an agreement, Manfred needs to make [a season] happen for the good of the game. MLB and the MLBPA would be foolish not to find a way to get onboard – they (MLBPA) will have plenty of oppt’y to press their points in the future but if they’re not playing, it won’t matter.”
“Blake Snell is a bleeping idiot. He’s not risking his life going out to play a game that any kid dreamed to be part of. The medical staffs will insure that there will be preventative measures to protect the team and the players. The police, fire and hospital workers are the heroes. They deserve the big paycheck.”
“[The MLBPA] is focused only on the problems in 2020. It does not seem to realize that the health of baseball as a business is beneficial to players in the future.”
Moving along to Responses More Favorable to the MLBPA and the Players:
“The owners have negotiated in bad faith by making the same proposal three different ways, but couching the same monetary result differently in terms of number of games, pay and benefits.”
“The owners’ demands for payroll concessions from players while crying about $640,000 in losses per game played is disingenuous when they refuse to share financial information which might justify that claim.”
“Their economic self-interests are all the owners care about. Their economic self-interests are paramount with the players, although health concerns will have significant importance for the young players with families if playing baseball becomes a reality in 2020.”
“[MLB and the owners] have negotiated as if there will be no seasons in 2021, 2022 or 2023.”
Next up are Responses that Speak to the Sport of Professional Baseball as a whole:
“The public views the back-and-forth offers and counteroffers with mounting apathy. The chance to play a meaningful number of games is fast disappearing. A radically shortened schedule will lead to a ‘winner’ having no legitimacy and tarnished with a giant asterisk.”
“If there is no consensus to start the season in the next several weeks the game is dead. There are/was 42 million Americans out of work in the last three months. Joe Flebleezt (stole that from you) does not want to hear that the players are going to lose a certain percentage of their multi million dollar contracts to play 60 games a year instead of 162.” [Aside: The least you could have done is to spell Joe Flabeetz’ name correctly. 😊]
“Both the owners and the players are destroying the golden goose by failing to make obvious concessions that would permit an agreement and their stubbornness will have financial and fan loss repercussion that will damage the game for a decade or more.”
“The inability of the two sides to reach an agreement without acrimony is not at all surprising. Very little ever changes in baseball. Labor strife was baked in to the culture in the earliest days of the professional game. Unchanging, uncaring, the game is destined to join horse racing and boxing in the category of irrelevant sports.”
“In the broad sense of what American society is dealing with, in all its iterations, the MLB season is relatively insignificant and largely irrelevant to a large segment of the population. However, the citizens are in dire need of SOME level of distraction and Baseball would miss a golden opportunity NOT to fill that need.”
Lastly, here are Responses that Call for a Pox on Both Houses:
“The fans are again being taken for granted by both players and owners.”
“The only thing they agree on is not to talk to each other.”
“[Bleep] all of them! [Aside: I realize this is not a declarative sentence because the verb is in the imperative mood, but I think you get the intended meaning.]
“The owners are greedy and the players are greedy. Think about the people who pay your salary. I’m permanently out if this is not resolved.”
“The fans are of very little concern to either owners or players.”
I sent my email request out last Wednesday, four full days before the negotiations reached the stage we find them in today. The union has refused another MLB proposal; and this time, the union said there will be no more negotiations because it is time for MLB to tell the players when and where to report for whatever season MLB puts on the schedule. I was “prescient” inquiring when I did; the responses were “prescient” in anticipating where all of this wound up.
What we have now is sort of a work stoppage. It is not a strike because the players now have declared that they want to play; it is not a lockout because MLB can simply announce the time and place where games will begin again. However, this is an interruption in the normal course of business for professional baseball that goes beyond the intervention of the coronavirus; the cause of this interruption is a dispute over pay and working conditions – – which are traditionally the terrain of labor/management disputes. If there is a noun for this kind of a labor/management situation, I do not know what it is.
However, there is a historical context to apply here. Back in 1994 when the World Series had to be canceled because the players refused to finish the season past the middle of August, the future of baseball was in jeopardy. It took the ruling of a future Justice of the US Supreme Court to “save baseball” and get the game back on the field in late April of 1995. [Aside: For the record, I do not believe that Sonya Sotomayor “saved baseball”; but indeed, her ruling was the event that broke the logjam that existed in 1994-1995.] Fans were not happy; some blamed the owners; other blamed the players; everyone blamed someone or something for the lack of baseball – – and lots of fans “vowed” to stay away forever. Through pure serendipity, MLB and the MLBPA had a savior waiting in the wings.
- As the 1995 season began, one of baseball’s – – nay one of all of sports’ – – “unbreakable” records was in the line of fire. And in September 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played when he played in his 2131st consecutive game in the Orioles’ home park in Baltimore.
Ripken’s pursuit of that “unbreakable record” dominated the narrative of baseball in 1995 in a totally positive way; and when he broke the record, it was almost as if the strike/lockout from the previous year had never happened. Subsequent to that “life-saving event”, MLB carried on into the heart of the PED/Steroid Era; and once again, fans were enthralled by the homerun antics of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when both of them broke Roger Maris’ longstanding record of 61 homeruns in a single season in 1998.
If there are any “baseball saviors” out there waiting to rescue MLB from a sports nadir in 2021, I cannot tell you who or what they might be. Maybe Joe Flabeetz will play in the 2020 truncated season of 50 games or so and wind up hitting .420 for the “season”. At least, that would generate some controversy and some interest in baseball history that might carry over into 2021. Sorry folks, that is the best I can come up with…
Until and unless both the owners and the players’ union can come up with better answers to issues such as:
- Revenue sharing: The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Astros, Cubs and Phillies all have the highest projected payrolls for 2020. They also all play in big markets with plenty of baseball tradition. That is fine – – but the fact that they can afford to outspend the other 22 teams in MLB is not fine. MLB needs meaningful revenue sharing similar to what the NFL has had in place for about 50 years. And as I have argued here before, a salary cap plus a salary floor for every team would make a lot of sense.
- Penalties for tanking: The fact is that too many teams had positioned themselves in 2020 to try not to win a championship. The Mariners, Orioles, and Tigers in the AL are not trying; you might include the Red Sox here given their trade of Mookie Betts for a ham sandwich and you might have included the Indians too if they had been successful in trading Francisco Lindor as had been rumored. In the NL, you can write off the Giants, Marlins and Pirates. If you include the Rockies who were looking at the possibility of trading away Nolan Arenado, that will bring the suspect list up to nine teams. That means 30% of the teams in MLB were not even going to try to be “winners” in 2020.
- Service-time manipulation: The current CBA has a humongous loophole in it that allows owners to keep young players ineligible for arbitration for an extra year. That loophole is so large that you can drive a phalanx of buses through it, and it can save the owners tens of millions of dollars. Guess what? They exploit that loophole with relish as they should. Do not blame the owners here; blame the players’ union negotiators for acquiescing to a set of procedures that is so blatantly exploitable to the detriment of the players they were nominally there to represent.
Folks, this situation would have to be a whole lot more organized and constrained to be described as a “hot mess”. My perspective is that no matter which side you might choose to align with here, that side has feet of clay, the brains of a starfish and an excretory aperture at both ends of its alimentary canal. There are no heroes; there are only greedy, mendacious predatory beasts – – on both sides.
Why is this worse than 1994 and 1995? Well that is simple. In addition to the lack of some outside event/player to capture the attention of everyone who ever liked baseball in the past, here is something that 2021 is sure to have:
- Lots more acrimony as the spillover product from this year’s inability to find a way to play a truncated season that neither side could have predicted or avoided or desired. And the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out at the end of the 2021 season and will have to be renegotiated. Oh, swell…
Professional baseball has been around for about 150 years in the US and – – amazingly – – the owners and the players have not yet come to recognize the fact that they need each other in order to sop up the $11B in annual revenues that MLB generates today. No one will pay money to watch the owners play baseball against one another; no one will pay nearly $11B for the players to perform on a semi-organized barnstorming tour. Why is that so obvious to me and not to the combatants here?
I really want to be wrong about this, but I think MLB and the MLBPA have done a slow walk in lockstep onto the edge of a precipice. Moreover, if there are any adults in the room and those adults have been silent to this point, the situation could become catastrophic unless those adults jump to their feat and yell the negotiating equivalent of:
- W … T … BLEEP … are you blockheads doing?
Leaders get the credit when things go in a positive way for their organizations and leaders need to take the blame when things go south while they are in charge. So, let me just say:
- Thank you, Rob Manfred.
- Thank you, Tony Clark.
- You have provided generations of future students studying to get an MBA with a top-flight case study on how not to handle negotiations.
Finally, as if this has not been sufficiently gloomy so far, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Fair warning: If the MLB season ever gets up and running, baseball media maven Tom Verducci anticipates ‘more pitching changes, less offense.’ Oh, goody.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………