If you want a truly irritating experience read any comment thread about the current lockout on MLB that is NOT on TrueBlueLA.
“It’s both sides fault!”
“Yeah, it’s millionaires versus billionaires.”
“I only make [blank.] The players should take what they are given and like it!”
My head hurts...might need to lay down for this one.
The current labor strife in Major League Baseball is not a both-sides problem
This essay will argue that the current labor strife is not the fault of both sides, but rather it is the fault of largely one group of people, the owners.
A lot of writers about this subject tend to fall into the trap of this labor dispute is the fault of both sides, crudely summed up to the public as the players want more of a cut of the revenue pie and the owners claim there’s no pie to share because of reasons, and the players should be happy they get what they get. Reading ESPN (at times), or even certain writers at The Athletic, or anything that comes out of Buster Olney or Ken Rosenthal’s mouth, just makes me cringe to high heaven.
Now, this essay is not meant as a takedown piece in any way, shape, or form. Frankly, there are sports personalities who get on my nerves, but I try to live and let live. But in this long-form essay series, I will contend against an idea. Generally, I’m not going to fault someone for making a living - I am going to fault someone if they are empirically wrong for a living.
The Argument that both sides are fault...
In order to break down the argument that both sides are at fault, it’s best to present that argument, if only to later take it apart.
But the idea that both sides certainly has struck a chord with certain writers...
For example, Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic, January 19, 2022: (paywalled)
“Not a single game should be lost [due to the lockout].
If it happens, the outcome will be inexcusable for Major League Baseball, a sport competing for market share in an ever-expanding entertainment universe. Fans will gladly turn to other leagues and outlets if what was once a $10 billion industry cannot get out if its own way. And the antipathy toward baseball will be particularly acute in the middle of a pandemic that has lasted for nearly two years, exhausting the patience of millions of people in the process.
The relationship between the players and owners continues to play out like a bad marriage, with the respective leaders of both parties talking over one another instead of to each other, barely seeming to speak the same language. The difference in this equation is that the marriage cannot end in divorce. The two sides need to reach a truce, no matter how uneasy.
At present, the “talks” between the parties still amount to theater, a Kabuki dance of proposals and counter-proposals that neither side is taking seriously. Fans should remember that most negotiations in baseball, from trades to draft-pick signings to arbitration deals, accelerate only as a deadline nears. But we are approaching crunch time, the point in the discussions when the start of spring training, and thus the start of the regular season, will be in jeopardy….
This is not, at the moment, a “both sides” discussion. The owners need to acknowledge that the game’s economic landscape has tilted too far in their direction, and that the sport’s competitive integrity has been compromised by teams refusing to invest in their products. Commissioner Rob Manfred initiated the lockout, then was rightly pilloried for calling it “defensive” and saying it was intended to “jumpstart” the negotiations, when in reality 43 days would pass before the league presented the union with an offer on core economic issues.”
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
Originally, I had these observations in the original financial essay, but then Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic stood up and delivered a scorching hot take on January 24, while I was writing the first essay. After reading her essay, I needed a cooling-off period when I then realized that I had just stumbled into part two of my labor stoppage writing.
The crux of her article is summed up below (once again, from behind the paywall):
...[After discussing how her sister isn’t going to Spring Training because of the Lockout...] My sister, a nurse in San Diego, is a big Padres fan who goes to about a dozen games a year. She, like most other fans I know, have tuned out the sport entirely since the lockout started. I was on the phone with her last week on her break from the operating room. She wanted me to explain quickly and in layman’s terms what the fighting was all about.
“Money,” I told her. “The players want to be paid more and the owners are opposed.”
“Ohh,” she responded. “So does this mean the minor leaguers are going to get paid more?”
[After discussing how the readers of the Athletic voted that Minor League pay was the most important issue facing baseball.] ...This fight involves two parties who can barely stand to be in the same room trying to find a shred of common ground. And the longer this lockout goes, the clearer it gets: The biggest losers here are the fans.
Certainly MLB players, after losing handily in each of the last two Collective Bargaining Agreements, can and should fight to recoup some of those losses, to force perennial-tanking teams to try and spend and raise the luxury tax enough that big-market clubs don’t use the penalties as a soft salary cap. But it will take years — if ever — before those potential changes translate into a more entertaining game to watch.
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
There are other authors to make this argument. I’m going to directly link to them, because I think we have the general flavor of the argument. I am doing my best to ignore the “classism” strains in the argument, saying that Johnny Public doesn’t make $500,000 yearly, so why are the players whining about the value of their work.
...and the counter argument that the owners are mostly to blame for the current labor stoppage
As demonstrated in my previous essay, the owners’ financial position doesn’t make a lick of sense. As such, any effort to try and say that both sides are at fault is a flawed proposition, at best. You can certainly see that there shouldn’t be a “both sides are at fault” narrative, but folks on the internet are going to be folks on the internet.
What truly just floors me is that Mr. Rosenthal and Ms. Ghiroli were paid actual tenderable currency for the above paragraphs and the inherent contradictions therein. The relationship between the players and the owners is a bad marriage where both sides don’t like each other... but one side has been giving the other the silent treatment for the past month and a half! If it were a relationship, you would only blame both sides in the sense that the aggrieved party hasn’t worked themselves to get a divorce yet, which is not a solution here.
Mr. Rosenthal will be the first to admit he’s not a labor lawyer or any sort of lawyer, but a writer about baseball who wants a resolution. That’s fine, but it’s about as useful as saying that dogs and cats should live in harmony.
I’m thoroughly annoyed because on this one point, on this one issue, I have to agree, in part, with Trevor friggin’ Bauer as to the shoddiness of the reporting involved in this story.
Seriously? I just wrote “I have to agree, in part, with Trevor friggin’ Bauer.” I need hard alcohol – five minutes ago.
Michael, it’s not even noon. Are you THAT kind of lawyer?
We’re all THAT kind of lawyer, now. (Legal disclaimer: you are not. I am certainly not.)
As to Ms. Ghiroli, there is a substantive response to her essay, but I need to address the comedy first as it’s rare that someone offers a take that so merits a photo response, but here we go:
There is so much to unpack in her essay, never mind that I went to 30 games last year and I’m still paying attention to baseball and you lot for playing not-Wheel of Fortune. Different strokes for different folks.
Personally, Major League Baseball games in December are an underrated treat. Sarcasm aside, we are facing a delay in spring training and the loss of a hot stove season. Baseball in April is at risk, with baseball in the first two weeks in peril. As a fan, that would affect my trip to Minneapolis, but it is out of my control. I would not want to have a personal stake in this dispute.
Ms. Ghiroli doesn’t outright say that the players should just shut up and play ball. That’s something, I guess. At least she acknowledges the fact that the players lost in the last two CBAs, maybe they are trying to shift the tide, which is admittedly on the players for having a poor strategy, of not having a lawyer represent them.
Granted, the players are not making that mistake again, but that’s part three of this series.
I’m not a labor lawyer, but I am a lawyer, and it seems I’ve done more research and thoughtful analysis than two senior analysts at a major sports website (see this article and the previous one)...for 1/12th of a godd—
—with a pig!
Okay, I’m better now.
I discussed a lot of the financial shenanigans of the owners in the previous essay. I pointed out in detail how the owners initiated the lockout at the literal first opportunity.
The hypothetical situations that aren’t (still not a “both sides’ are at fault” situation)
What would it look like if both sides were truly to blame? Well... off the top of my head... I can think of two scenarios that are not applicable to this current situation.
The Players could have voted for a strike after refusing to negotiate.
By definition, this act didn’t happen, as the owners locked out the players. Moving on.
The Players could play hardball with the Owners insisting on an “all-or-nothing” position, darn the consequences.
I have read some comments responding to the first essay saying that the Players should play hardball (Ha!) in forcing the owners to break, damn the consequences.
While the players and the owners are currently locked in a dispute, unlike say a legal dispute where the parties can go their separate ways afterward, the players and the owners need to continue to live together.
The players have dropped several demands in the interests of moving the negotiations along. Per the most recent substantive development, as of the writing of this essay, per Rosenthal and Evan Drellich on January 31 (paywalled):
The league suggests it is responding to the union on multiple fronts while also yielding on two elements the players have long desired, the universal DH and elimination of draft-pick compensation for free agents. The union sees the league’s proposal of a $10 million pre-arb pool as its only meaningful financial offer even as owners simultaneously ask for lucrative gains such as expanded playoffs and advertising patches on uniforms.
Again, by definition, that scenario is not occurring either.
But the owners offered to go to mediation and the players said no
While that sentence is technically true, there’s a bit of missing context that needs to be addressed.
Mediation v. Arbitration
First, it’s important to note the difference between mediation and arbitration. For non-lawyers, this distinction can be tricky, but luckily, you know someone who is a trained mediator.
While in undergraduate studies, he was trained as a mediator, having conducted several successful mediations.
While in practice, I have also been involved with about a half-dozen arbitration cases and about a half-dozen mediation cases, so there’s that frame of knowledge.
In mediation, the mediator is not there to decide an outcome, but rather, the mediator is there to help the two sides attempt to reach a solution to their shared problem.
In a legal context in California, this process usually involves both sides writing up their positions with evidence (called briefs) that are sent to the mediator and the other side outlining their position and arguing their case. Usually, these briefs are sent a month to a week before the actual mediation, depending on what the mediator wants and depending on the complexity of the case.
Then, everyone meets and the parties are sent to their own respective breakout rooms with the mediator going back and forth between the groups hearing their thoughts and the mediator can (and usually does) give their opinion. Sometimes, no agreement is had, but both sides come to a better understanding of where the conflict is headed. Sometimes that means more mediation after more evidence is obtained, sometimes that means trial at the court down the road.
Have I ever channeled Jimmy Carter in King of the Hill? No... not yet... not yet.
In arbitration, the arbitrator is there to decide an outcome, rather than help the parties reach a solution.
In a legal context in California, for instance, both sides submit their briefs, just like in mediation.
On the date of the arbitration, unlike mediation, usually, a mini-trial occurs with previously agreed upon witnesses and exhibits. This hearing can take a day or several days. Usually, there’s direct and cross-examination of witnesses. In any event, once the arbitration hearing is done, the arbitrator takes everything into advisement and then issues a ruling.
Prior to all this setup, the parties in the dispute would have agreed that the arbitration is binding (which means that everyone has to live the decision) or non-binding (where everyone has to live with the decision only if both sides agree to it). Non-binding arbitration is usually used in California as a prerequisite step by the Court before the Court will order a trial date.
Roughly 99 percent of cases settle before trial, and the court wants to use its limited resources on cases where the dispute needs judicial authority to resolve.
Spoilers, I suppose, for a docudrama about my life from 2018 to 2019 working in Silicon Valley.
Now you know the difference, so please, please do not mix these two concepts up.
Now, you might say the following with a self-satisfied smirk: “The owners offered to go to mediation and the players said no, so clearly the players do not want to resolve the labor stoppage. Therefore, it’s both sides’ fault.”
I was in the middle of writing a counter to that very train of thought and then Eric said something that summed it up nicely, on February 4, 2022:
At issue with the players is MLB owners’ lack of urgency at best — and acting in bad faith, at worst — beginning with commissioner Rob Manfred claiming on December 1 that locking out the players would spur negotiations between the two sides.
MLB owners next made a proposal 43 days later. Recent days have seen more talks between representatives for players and owners, but very little progress made.
Statement from a Major League Baseball spokesperson: pic.twitter.com/RKlKVPT32W— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) February 4, 2022
From MLB’s statement: “...it is time to get immediate assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help us work through our differences and break the deadlock.”
Let me get this train of thought straight:
- The owners lock out the players at the literal first opportunity...
- The owners do not respond to players’ last offer for forty-three (43) days...
- The owners and the players meet on consecutive days but are far apart in their position...
- The owners ask for mediation assistance, and also say that they will not respond to the players’ last offer
Or, put another way...
As a trained mediator, I’m deeply annoyed when I am used as a prop. Granted, the players have a history of being burned by the mediation process. A mediator is only really supposed to solutions as a last resort, and personally, I get the other side’s permission before proffering an idea. Because I am not supposed to be the star of the show in a mediation.
Take it home, Alex:
How can MLB request for there to be a mediator from the Federal Government to help with negotiations when they literally haven’t even done any negotiating up to this point? Asking for a friend.— Alex Wood (@Awood45) February 4, 2022
Under the current facts, MLB is focusing on public relations tactics to address, a mess that is going to get worse, which it literally created. Never mind, the underlying financial issues with the sport that were discussed at length in my previous essay.
As demonstrated above, this “both sides are at fault” talk is truly unhealthy and unhelpful in this discussion, but it just persists as there is an underlying temptation to cast this labor stoppage as a pox on both houses moment, even though, as I’ve just pointed out above, it is not.
If the players were being unreasonable, I would call them out. If they moved to strike on grounds that were unsupported by the economics of the sport, I would call them out.
(“Mandatory 10-year contracts for All-Stars!” - yeah, no.)
When the players behave as poorly as the owners, you bet I’ll have something to say on the matter.
As shown, the “both-sides are at fault” argument is not only faulty, it’s counterproductive to actually fix the damn problem, but the idea that the current strife is the fault of both sides is so ingrained some writers, causing them to a company line in the name of maintaining the appearance of impartiality or maintaining access for articles that are edging towards this both sides are at fault horse crap, even though they really should know better.
But again, this essay just demonstrates what is publicly known regarding this conflict. After all, it’s not my money...
(You’re going to want to click the link for this part. And yes, I’ve always wanted to say that in open court.)
So literally the afternoon before this essay went scheduled to go to press, two articles dropped that demonstrated my point so beautifully, so perfectly that it would not pass as fiction, and yet here we are.
So I had a dilemma: post something that I knew would be incomplete or call an audible and swap in a 2021 postmortem that was going to go on Friday. Needless to say, Mookie was tapped to pinch-hit, with a little help from my friends.
As such, to wrap this essay up, it’s time to look at “dueling” essays and marvel (in different ways) the quest to shape the narrative as to the current, and-now-second-longest-ever labor stoppage in Major League Baseball.
It’s time for an even deeper dive.
On one hand...
First, Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs. com, on February 14, 2022:
“You didn’t have to be a cynical curmudgeon to know that Saturday’s meeting between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association would not magically produce a deal for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, thus allowing spring training to begin on time. With its “defensive” lockout and subsequent failure to officially offer more than one proposal to the players on core economic issues over the previous 71 days — a counterintuitive definition of “jumpstart,” never before observed in the wild — the league had already made abundantly clear the fantastical nature of any dates attached to pitchers and catchers reporting. By prematurely calling for the entry of a federal mediator into the proceedings after the barest attempt to negotiate, by telling the media that “phones work two ways” when it comes to bargaining, by downplaying the financial benefits of owning a team relative to investing in the stock market, and by mischaracterizing the owners’ latest proposal for the Competitive Balance Tax rates, commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners have made it clear in recent weeks that they aren’t ready to play ball. And so, for the foreseeable future, there will be no major league baseball played.”
As an aside, the prospect of #JuniorCircuit starting on time looks bleak.
“[Commissioner] Manfred has yet to make a formal announcement to that effect because no spring training games have been scrubbed thus far, but via USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, that could happen by the end of this week, as the exhibition season is scheduled to begin on February 26. During his press conference last week, Manfred didn’t offer a deadline for an agreement that would keep the March 31 date for Opening Day intact, though he did express a desire for a minimum of four weeks of spring training, suggesting that the league has absorbed at least one lesson from the frenzied and contentious run-up to the 2020 season and the soaring injury rates that followed. Nightengale reported February 28 as the deadline for an agreement that would preserve Opening Day, though with 197 unsigned arbitration-eligible players and nearly 300 free agents (his figures), such a compressed timeframe would create a level of chaos and logistical difficulty that would make Team Entropy cringe.
If you’re expecting this column to both-sides the failure to hash out a new CBA, to assign equal blame to the MLBPA as to the owners, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is a lockout, not a strike. It is entirely of the owners’ doing — you could say they own it — and entirely unnecessary, because the 2022 season could be played under the terms of the previous CBA until a new one is in place. The two sides would need to agree to restore the old agreement’s Competitive Balance Tax, Joint Drug Agreement, and domestic violence policy — all of which have technically expired as of December 1, 2021 — until such a point, and that may not be trivial, but it would be a rare glimpse of good faith. Based on the minimal concessions the owners have been offering, not to mention the widening gap between revenues and salaries over the past decade, they must like that old CBA pretty well, because they seem reluctant to change things too radically.”
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
Again - I cannot quibble with the facts recited in this portion of his essay. Originally, I was going to directly contrast the other essay, but then things happened to make that moot. Mr. Jaffe continues:
Beyond the tax structure, the two sides are far apart on the minimum salary, which in 2021 stood at $570,500, the lowest of the “big four” North American team sports according to The Score’s Travis Sawchick (the NBA’s $925,258 is the highest, and even the NHL comes in at $750,000), and only about 12% higher than in 2016, with annual growth of less than 2% in each of the past four years. What’s more, none of those other sports rely on that minimum-salary labor more than baseball. Via Sawchik, 63.2% of all players in 2019 had less than three years of service time, meaning that they were generally making some function of the league minimum. Those players accounted for 53.6% of all service time accumulated, but only 9.8% of player pay. Via Ben Clemens, in 2021, players making the minimum accounted for 47% of service time accrued, but only 7.5% of player pay. Via Nightengale, 1,145 of the 1,670 players on rosters last year (68.6%) made less than $1 million — a reminder that calling this a fight between millionaires and billionaires is off base.
The union has proposed increasing the minimum salary to $775,000. After making a preliminary offer of $600,000 during negotiations in mid-December, the league offered straight salaries of $615,000, $650,000 and $700,000 for players with 0-1, 1-2, and 2-3 years of service time in their mid-January proposal. On Saturday, they proposed raising the salary for the third year to $725,000, and offered an alternative as well, a flat minimum of $630,000 in the first year of the deal; that’s 10.4% above the current minimum, a jump that would be the largest since the 2012 CBA increased the minimum from $414,00 to $480,000 (15.9%), but it’s less than $6,400 ahead of what the minimum would be if the last CBA’s 2017 minimum ($535,000) had grown with inflation. Under that structure, teams would be able to give raises for subsequent years, but would also be able to unilaterally renew contracts with smaller or no raises as well, just as they have for ages.
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
Again, just a direct demonstration of the core maths involved and showing that one side wants to maintain the status quo and one side wants to alter it.
Let’s look at the other view
From Jim Bowden at The Athletic (paywalled), on February 14:
“Most of the public narrative surrounding the MLB labor talks is blaming the owners. That’s understandable because they’re the ones who locked out the players. After getting burned in 1994 with a strike by the players late in the season, they wanted to prevent it from happening again. But for the game of baseball, it doesn’t matter if it’s a lockout or a strike. What matters is getting a deal done.
Wait for it...
It’s important to remember MLB players have had the best collective bargaining agreement of any of the four major pro sports leagues in North America, and MLB is the only one without a salary cap and with fully guaranteed deals and no limit to contract lengths. Those facts won’t change when a new agreement is finally forged. In addition, after the MLB Players Association “lost” the last two CBA negotiations in most people’s eyes, they were going to “win” this round, even if they just accept the deal the owners have on the table.”....
This fact is also true...
“The owners have listened to the players’ narratives on the major issues they want changed in the new CBA, and have made an offer that gives wins to the players (whether they’re draftees, prospects, non-arbitration eligible, veterans or free agents) while providing roster continuity and movement and enabling more players to make the postseason than ever before (outside of the 2020 season).
The owners still need to compromise in some key areas, but now it’s time for the Players Association to make a dramatic proposal to jump-start the negotiations and help avoid a delay to the start of the season. That’s right, I think the onus is on the players, not the owners, at this point. The union’s position has moved very little since the lockout began....”
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
To be fair, the title of Mr. Bowden’s essay was the first clue that you were about to encounter the Carolina Reaper of hot takes. So I knew what I was getting in for at the outset.
Let’s contrast showing how Mr. Bowden used the same set of minimum salary numbers:
In terms of the minimum salary, the owners have proposed a tiered approach of $615,000 for 0-1 years of major-league service, $650,000 for 1-2 years of service and $725,000 for more than two years of service (non-arbitration-eligible players). The union wants a $775,000 flat rate. Over the past five years, the minimum salary has increased from $535,000 to $570,500. The owners’ offer is a huge jump in comparison.
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
So to recap, the owners lock out the players at the literal first opportunity. The owners sit on their hands for over six weeks in responding to Players’ last offer. The owners immediately call for mediation after token attempts at negotiation. Oh, and the dates for spring training are nearly upon us and there’s no admission that spring games or even the early regular season is now in jeopardy, which was not the case when the first part of this essay was drafted or submitted for review.
I haven’t seen a farce this sad since Dave Roberts kept saying over and over that Trevor Bauer was going to pitch in Washington, D.C. on July 4. “Regardless of what the organization wanted to do, this [situation where Bauer pitches as scheduled] is what has to happen,” Roberts said. “It’s out of our hands.” And the majority of you want him back! Why?!? Of all the—
—with a pig!
(Author’s note: At some point, I will articulate the minority position re: Dave Roberts, but not today, not tomorrow, let’s let the Dodgers extend him first. Then, you’ll be able to hear my annoyance from the direction of San Francisco on that day.)
The above Roberts’ quote is why weak grammatical references are bad; because someone has to literally guess what the “this” is referring to. So if you learn nothing else today, the word “this” or “that” needs to have an object following it.
Ex: “This sentence is stupid” rather than “This is stupid.”
A little more from Mr. Bowden before we regroup:
“...The bottom line is that the owners have moved a lot more in their offers than the players. They’ve listened to the players’ concerns and made significant proposals to address them in most areas. The players, however, have not really done anything more than demand what they want in the negotiations, with very little movement. I respect union executive director Tony Clark and his lead negotiator, Bruce Meyer, but their approach to these talks seems like the approaches of former union heads Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr: “my way or the highway,” with very little give and take. Instead of complaining about what they call an underwhelming proposal from the other side, the players should show the owners what an overwhelming proposal looks like. As commissioner Rob Manfred said, it only takes one big breakthrough to get a deal done, and the players have the power to do it with their next offer.
There’s still work to be done on the owners’ side, but the players must make the next move, and it needs to be dramatic if Opening Day is going to happen on March 31. I spent my adult life in front offices and know many readers will say I’m looking at this from a former general manager’s viewpoint. That could be partly true. However, anyone who has followed my media career also knows I’m pro-player first and want what’s in the best interest of baseball.”
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
Bruce Meyer really deserves his own essay as to this mess, but that’s a later problem. I really need to shine a light on the myth of the small market in Oakland, California, and the absolutely mendacious chicanery going on in Tampa Bay, Florida, all while introducing you to a Tree. (Spoiler alert for parts 3 and 4.)
Unlike you, fair reader, I paid actual money to read those paragraphs. The above paragraphs are almost-weapons grade chutzpah. Normally, for counteroffers that are that minimal in moving the overall negotiation to completion, there needs to be coal and/or Jacob Marley involved. Heatwave!
Never mind that Jim Bowden was forced to resign for allegations that he was skimming money from Dominican prospects and hasn’t been in the league since. But sure, okay, you’re pro-player, Mr. Bowden. It’s just a mountain of bad. If it was reasoned bad, I could disagree with it. In my view, it is not, so it’s gaslighting.
So needless to say, the majority of the Athletic commenters, which are hardly a bastion of liberal worker sentiment (figuratively) lit up Jim Bowden’s arguments like a candle... soaked in napalm... in an ocean of gasoline... on the surface of the sun. There were those that defended Mr. Bowden, but similar to the assertion that I am sure there are fans of Billy Joel out there somewhere, they were few and far between.
One last shout out
I had a statistical analysis queued up as to Mr. Jaffe’s numbers showing how the Owners’ proposals literally are moving to such a minor degree they would hardly serve as counter-proposals, but then Eric just posted to them, which required a bit of retooling on my part. Hence, why I discussed the figures with each essay. Also, thankfully, I came across an alternate conclusion to this essay, which will serve nicely and demonstrate as even-handed reporting to show that the current MLB Labor Stoppage is not a both-sides’ problem:
(Plus, I wanted to end this piece on a positive note.)
From MLBTradeRumors.com, Mr. Tim Dierkes, on February 15, 2022:
After going over the previous times that the players have voted to go on strike, he makes the following argument:
How The Owners Have Justified The 2022 Lockout
Now let’s tie this into the present dispute. MLB’s lockout is already affecting spring training and could well lead to canceled games in April, so it’s important to understand why they did it. In his December 2 “letter to baseball fans,” Commissioner Rob Manfred provided two reasons why MLB was “forced to commence” a lockout of the players:
“We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.”
“We cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994.”
It’s pretty easy to dismiss the “jumpstart the negotiations” angle, given that MLB waited 42 days between its lockout and its next proposal. In my opinion, some credibility is lost when you say that and then wait that long to make your next offer.
But let’s examine the second point, about how we can’t allow another strike like ’94. I have already established that historically, MLB players going on strike has been rare, and pretty clearly provoked by ownership each time. However, ownership has not done anything to provoke a strike in 2022.
As [Commissioner] Manfred put it, “Baseball’s players have no salary cap and are not subjected to a maximum length or dollar amount on contracts. In fact, only MLB has guaranteed contracts that run 10 or more years, and in excess of $300 million. We have not proposed anything that would change these fundamentals.” Emphasis mine. This is completely true. The MLBPA has plenty of concerns right now with various causes, but they’re not the result of something radical MLB is trying to impose. MLB wants something resembling the status quo. The difference of opinion is on whether the status quo is acceptable.
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
Now Mr. Dierkes does not spend time focusing on the larger financial trends in MLB as I did previously, but he does make a solid point here. Unlike previous labor strifes, the owners are not trying to take away free agency in its infancy or impose a salary cap, which were foundational threats to the players’ union in the two previous strikes (in 1981 and 1994).
Mr. Dierkes continues:
The Current Issues Are Not Strike-worthy
It’s my opinion that the current differences of opinion, which are mostly in in [sic] degrees and not concepts, are not compelling enough to cause the players to strike. Sometimes the degrees of difference are large, like in the case of the competitive balance tax, but it’s still mostly haggling over numbers. To be clear, the idea that the players wouldn’t strike is guesswork based on the historical precedent I’ve laid out in this post. Publicly or even privately, if the players are disinclined to strike over the current differences, they cannot admit it. To do so would be to lose their leverage.
MLB could lift the lockout today and everything would start on time, with negotiations continuing during the season. So for them to keep the lockout in place and risk canceling games, under the justification Manfred provided, MLB really has to feel a midseason strike would have been likely. Let’s game that out and envision a hypothetical strike announcement by MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. For this exercise I’m using the current gaps, even though six months from now those gaps would presumably be smaller.
I will spare you the hypothetical press release in the interest of time. It is adequately written, but the overall tone of the issues that players have kept in play does not rise to a hill worth stopping the sport on. For instance, if the players decided that five years to free agency was an absolute necessity, they would not have dropped it so early in the negotiation.
Mr. Dierkes makes the following conclusion:
A Possible Third Motive For MLB’s Lockout
Maybe you’re like me and you can’t see Tony Clark issuing a strike announcement statement similar to the hypothetical I wrote above. Though they wouldn’t admit it, maybe MLB also finds a strike on these grounds to be unlikely. That leads to a third, unstated possible motive for MLB initiating a lockout in December 2021: they did so mainly to gain financial leverage over the players and get a better deal for themselves.
That’s what I think is happening, and it’s MLB’s right to do so. In that case, the current situation boils down to MLB being willing to cancel games in April to get a better agreement.
I know it’s easy to “both sides” the current labor dispute. Feel free to choose from among these commonly-used phrases:
A pox on both your houses
Millionaires vs. billionaires
Where is the fan in all of this
However, only one side can implement a lockout, and only one side can go on strike. Currently, we’re in a lockout, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame the players for going on strike unless they actually do, you know, go on strike. If the lockout is lifted and the players go on strike over these issues, then yes, the players would shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for missed games and/or canceled playoffs. Until then, missed games fall on ownership.
(Ed. note: emphasis added)
Exactly! Without delving into why collective bargaining is an inherent right, there is not much more to say as to the reporting as to the current labor stoppage, which length of the essay aside is worth discussing. Until part 3 then.
Aren’t you forgetting something?
I don’t think so...
Oh...but it’s not my money...