In this week’s Hok Talk, we discuss the potential work stoppage MLB will likely have to endure this off-season.
Earlier this week, AP reporter Ronald Blum broke the news that many have feared for months if not years: the MLB and MLBPA are not particularly close in their negotiations for the next CBA, and it will likely lead to a work stoppage of some sort when the current agreement ends early in December. Given that information, it seems prudent to discuss some of what we can expect and address some of the talking points that have already started to crop up.
A work stoppage is not necessarily a moral failing by either side
This is probably the most pro-owner point I’m going to make and, therefore, potentially the least controversial. A work stoppage would undoubtedly be bad for the business of baseball, but it may be necessary. It doesn’t make sense for either side to move forward with the business of baseball without knowing what rules will be in place for the next CBA. The fact that negotiations are not yet complete is not necessarily an indicator that either side isn’t trying, merely that they have not yet found a reasonable middle ground.
Consider the source of news reports
There are certain reporters out there who generally only report things that are favorable to MLB and MLB ownership. That doesn’t make them bad reporters, necessarily; the things they report are often still quite newsworthy or otherwise interesting. That said, when you see these reporters make bold pro-MLB, anti-player claims take them with a grain of salt.
I like Ken Rosenthal a lot; he’s got a cute quirk that he uses to benefit charity with his bow ties, and his writing style can be quite entertaining while also being informative. However, The Athletic ran a report earlier this year written by him with a headline that claimed the MLBPA had opted out of a call with the government about COVID precautions before the season started. However, it turns out the MLBPA had merely scheduled a separate call - something noted in the very article with the inflammatory headline.
It’s safe to say that for all of Rosenthal’s good qualities, he has shown a bias toward the MLB and away from the MLBPA. If you see a report from him or anyone else who is known to behave in the same way, disparaging the players and praising MLB leadership, then you should make sure to question whether it might be a tad misleading.
Additionally, when considering anything MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has to say on any subject, please recall that he chose to tell a straight lie in claiming that A.) MLB doesn’t advertise for Atlanta’s baseball team outside of their market, and B.) the local Native American tribe is totally cool with the nickname and tomahawk chop, so everyone else should chill out. Both things are patently false. Even the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians with which Atlanta’s baseball team is partnered have indicated that they’re okay with the name, oppose the chop. If he’s willing to tell a straight-up lie in that regard, consider what else he will be willing to lie about.
Both sides are not equal
Time and time again, I have seen a sentiment of frustration over the idea that a work stoppage might occur because of an argument over money from two groups of rich people. That framing is entirely disingenuous. One of the groups makes their money by having lots of money and paying other people to make them more money without actually providing any skill, talent, or often even any effort of their own. The other side has 1,000 less money and works extremely hard every day to ensure they can maintain the level of production that helped them earn even that amount lest they stop getting paid.
Team owners, the commissioner’s office, and many media members will try to frame this about greedy players being unhappy with their millions of dollars. They will ignore that the average pay for players has gone down in three of the past four seasons. They will disregard that MLB teams can be sold for a billion dollars or more any time the owners think that owning their team is no longer profitable enough. And they will omit the fact that while we are all keenly aware of exactly how much each player makes, we will never know how much the owners take home for their “effort” of simply owning the team.
The most appropriate way to see a potential work stoppage, regardless of who stops what is that it’s the owners’ fault because they have the most power. If the owners call a lockout, it will be because they were so entrenched in finding more money for themselves that they refused to truly negotiate with the players. If the players strike, it will be because they have no other way to advocate for themselves than to remove their production from the billionaires’ ledgers.
I know it can be tempting to become frustrated that players who make much, much more money than most of us ever will are fighting to make more money. But just because they’re making more money than we are doesn’t mean they don’t deserve more than they are getting. Without them, no one in baseball would be making any money, and it only makes sense that they should earn the lion’s share of the profits for being the essential part of the business.
Additionally, rooting against the players in these negotiations is simply rooting for billionaires to have more money. Will they try to excuse increased player salaries when they next raise ticket prices if it comes to that? Of course. But that’s all it is, an excuse. Have you noticed any teams reducing ticket prices the last few years while players made less and less money? Or when they bulldozed over the desires of minor league teams and their fans to reduce the amount of money they had to spend there? Of course not.
Instead of viewing MLB players as rich guys trying to get richer, I think it would help to reframe the issue as workers trying to get paid a fair share of the money they earn for other, wealthier men. If you’re upset by how much MLB players make, it makes more sense to advocate to make more money yourself rather than to drag the players down to our level while allowing the billionaires to get richer.