Inside The Very Public Fight to Save Baseball

Will Palaszczuk
May 17, 2020 - 11:27 pm
 A lock secures the gates at CoolToday Park

© Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

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Billionaires didn't become billionaires by accident.

That's why I didn't act the least bit surprised when MLB owners, in an attempt to curry favor in the court of public opinion, trotted out a savvy, optically favorable plan to start the 2020 baseball season. The term "50-50 split" is something that the uninitiated have interpreted as "shared sacrifice" not just with players and owners, but a melding of the sacrifices other businesses and employees have braced during the Coronavirus pandemic.

They had to know there would be some pushback from the players, and when that predictable huffing emerged, they would appear to be the generous ones.

I have a problem with blindly supporting the owner's position, however.

The players have every right to be skeptical of the intentions of the owners, not just from collective-bargaining standpoint, but from a lack of good-will negotiating as well. The mere fact that the owners got together and released a plan without any input from the MLBPA screams to the fact that they knew there would be some adversity towards finding an accord.

This isn't a simple "Billionaires fighting with Millionaires" fight that everyone has penned it as. It is much, much more complex.

Baseball is riddled with examples throughout its history where the owners have capitalized on public opinion favor to make players appear greedy. The 1994 baseball strike centered around many the same issues that the MLBPA has balked at in recent days. The Players Association believes any "cap" of the revenue made by MLB cannot stand, with MLBPA head Tony Clark calling the negotiation ploy a "non-starter".

There are plenty of cross-cultural absolutes in sports. Many believe the NFL will never have fully guaranteed contracts. The NBA cap is more confusing to figure out than a quantum physics lecture, and the NHL has not fully recovered from the strife it suffered through during its last work stoppage.

A salary cap in baseball might bring about a level of parity not seen in the sport, but a salary floor would need to accompany it to prevent the "tanking" techniques we've seen teams like the Marlins employ in recent years. 

Put simply, however, the disparity of money at the top end of the game, combined with the player control rules of young players make a salary cap a complicated ideal to implement, and one that bears no advantage whatsoever to the players.

MLB players, including the outspoken Blake Snell, have grown weary about the prospects of a second cut in pay when they are the ones assuming most, if not all of, the health risks involved with a return to play. Those pleas have fallen deaf ears as far as fans are concerned, as they just want their game to return in any way possible.

Add in Rob Manfred's appearance on CNN and the emergence of a very thorough safety plan, the owners have more support for their plight, thus far. 

Neither side is perfect here, though. The owners appear content to win the PR battle while indicting the players, and the athletes have failed to garner any sympathy from a public who has suffered more financially & physically than they have. 

The one caveat here, is that in most negotiations, deadlines usually spur concessions. In this case, however, a prolonged negotiation could spur the kind of enmity with baseball that would turn people off to the sport entirely, especially if baseball ends up not being the first sport to return. It's not only important for baseball to return as quickly as possible, but any competition in the entertainment market could lead the public to shed light on the negative feelings created by the separation between players and owners.

Another problem stems from the fact that these negotiations have served as a precursor to the labor talks that ultimately will take place at the conclusion of the 2021 season, when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. We could very much be in the same boat with these same issues (or new ones) 18 months from now.

Put simply, MLB owners need to negotiate in good faith, and its players need to accept the financial abnormalities this year will produce in order to return to play.

And it needs to happen fast.