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Always side with the players

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It’s not the owners who are playing baseball

Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals is congratulated by Jorge Soler #12 after scoring a run against the Oakland Athletics during the ninth inning at the RingCentral Coliseum on September 16, 2019 in Oakland, California. The Kansas City Royals defeated the Oakland Athletics 6-5.
Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals is congratulated by Jorge Soler #12 after scoring a run against the Oakland Athletics during the ninth inning at the RingCentral Coliseum on September 16, 2019 in Oakland, California. The Kansas City Royals defeated the Oakland Athletics 6-5.
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

I could never, ever, ever in a million years play professional baseball in the big leagues. I have a lot of advantages on my side—I’m able-bodied, healthy, and come from a middle class family with access to the coaching, equipment, and traveling clubs of youth baseball. But I simply don’t have the athleticism or the body type. Furthermore, I definitely don’t have the drive or the mental toughness to succeed. I know because I chose not to become a professional musician because of the stress and competition level, and I am infinitely more talented at French horn than I am at baseball.

But could I be a successful owner of a baseball team? Given a few billion dollars in assets and an opportunity to purchase a club? Without a shadow of a doubt, yes.

The secret about owners is not necessarily they are talented people. Owners are owners because they are filthy rich, and that’s really it. Many, including Hal Steinbrenner, William DeWitt Jr., and Thomas Ricketts, are so simply because their parents were rich. While some players have had fathers that played Major League Baseball, no second-generation MLB player was gifted their job or the literal means to win it due to their family name. Owners can be handed their team on a silver platter.

If I had the monetary means to run a club, I could do it. Most of you reading could, too. Personally, I’d use my obscene amount of cash to hire great advisors, and let baseball people handle baseball operations. I’d install a culture of trust and try to take my ego out of it. Simplistic? Probably. There would be bumps in the road. But it would be, and I cannot stress this enough, exponentially easier than attempting to square up a 95 MPH cut fastball.

When discussing labor negotiations between owners and players, players are at multiple disadvantages. First, they are named; we know who they are and what they look like. In other words, they are famous in a way that most owners aren’t. Second, fans are conditioned to think of players as numbers on a spreadsheet and not real people, whereas, again, that same transaction-based relationship isn’t true for owners. Third, most fans genuinely have no idea how much players are getting paid; the only thing they see is two sets of rich people—never mind that one set is significantly moreso than the other.

That is why it is so important not only to address those disadvantages, but to take a step back and realize which group is the true vanguard, the true scions, of the sport. I’ll let you know something: it ain’t the owners. It wasn’t David Glass who singled in Christian Colon to win the 2014 Wild Card Game. It wasn’t John Henry who broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. It wasn’t Howard Lincoln who threw the most recent perfect game in 2012. Kids aren’t wearing the jerseys of Peter Angelos, Christopher Ilitch, or Charlie Johnson.

Ironically, the biggest dagger in the hearts of baseball’s owners recently was nonchalantly placed their by one of their own. Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman bought the team for $1 billion last winter. Thanks to Covid-19, he hasn’t seen a cent of revenue this year. And yet, Sherman, one of the least wealthy owners in baseball and owner of one of the least valuable teams in baseball, is paying Kansas City minor league salaries through the end of the year and not cutting a single player when some of his much wealthier peers are not.

When it comes down to it, the players want to play. They are simply asking for the full prorated salaries for the amount of games played. To be fairly paid for their services and talents, in other words.

The owners, meanwhile, do not want to lose money. This, despite the extraordinary value of sports’ teams over the last few decades, and this despite avenues for recouping any losses this year, such as expansion. This, despite neglecting to actually open up their books and actually prove that they’re losing money.

I wonder how this labor negotiation will end. Maybe we’ll have a season this year. Maybe not. But it’s simply exhausting, and seeing so many people side with billionaires whose names they don’t know is perhaps the most exhausting of all.