Why Both Sides are at Fault in the MLB Labor Dispute

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In a completely unsurprising turn of events, the MLB Player’s Association voted to
decline the owners’ most recent offer of a 60 game season. While just a few days ago this seemed like simply another move in the incredibly slow and tone-deaf game of chess the two sides have been playing for months, huge news has come out in the wake of this decision. As USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports, the Commissioner’s office has unilaterally decided on a 60 game season that will proceed hopefully at some point in July.

This surely comes as a joyous announcement to baseball fans across the globe, myself included, as the beloved sport should be on its way back soon. However, the whole disastrous series of events underscores the complete and utter ineptitude and mishandling perpetrated by both sides of the MLB labor dispute.

In past baseball labor disputes, public opinion seemed to always fall on the side of the owners. Fans typically would be bemoaning the fact that millionaire athletes wanted an even bigger slice of the pie. However, 2020 is a far different time than 1981 or 1994, when the last serious labor disputes occurred. Social media has given players an expanded platform with which to explain their viewpoint and an increasing number of fans are empathizing with them. Many fans today still side with ownership, but with the
inexcusable conduct of organizations like the A’s and Nationals cutting the paltry stipends of minor league players to save a few nickels, as well as a litany of other underhanded maneuvers, the players have succeeded in swaying public opinion.

However, the millionaires are no less culpable than the billionaires when it comes to the disastrous MLB negotiations that have taken place in 2020.

When both the players and owners sat down to discuss terms for starting the 2020 season, the Players Association remained intractable on one major issue, which was prorated salaries. The players’ line of reasoning was that they should be paid proportionally for the amount of games played. In essence, stating that a 50 game season should result in 50 games worth of pay,and so on and so forth. This is a very reasonable demand, as the same owners that cry poor when it comes to paying their employees just recently signed the most lucrative television contract in the history of the game. With a new deal worth $5.1 billion dollars, suffice it to say ownership is going full Scrooge McDuck in not wanting to share the wealth. When it comes to prorated salaries, the players have a very good argument in wanting to receive the payment they’re
entitled to, and for the most part, the public understands that.

Because of the MLBPA’s insistence on prorated pay, the negotiations went off the rails
early on, and the players adopted the motto, “tell us when and where,” letting the public know that they would not agree to a deal that they believe isn’t fair. They were adamant in that the only way for them to play was for Commissioner Rob Manfred to use his powers to impose a season. This tactic worked quite well for the players, as it saw the public perception move decidedly against ownership.

It also gave the union a big trump card: filing a grievance. If the Commissioner’s office unilaterally declares a season, then the Player’s Association has a right to file a grievance against the league, basically claiming that the owners did not negotiate in good
faith in attempting to commence the season. Whether the outcome of the grievance would result in actual monetary gain for the players is not the chief issue, as the discovery phase of the trial would force the leagues’ 30 owners to open up their books and tell the court, as well as the Players’ Association, the specifics of the finances of each and every club.

This information would be invaluable to the union. Such an accounting would justify the players in pushing for larger salaries, a possible portion of television revenue, and even a possible elimination of the competitive balance tax. In essence, it would force the owners to disclose just how much money they make off the backs of the players, and give the players a very good case in asking for a lot more of it.

The only way for there to be a grievance filed is if there were no agreement on a 2020 season only to have the MLB force one anyway. Of course, this is what has happened. While this will likely prove to be a very sound tactical move for the players, it does fly in the face of their previous, “tell us when and where,” statement, making that look like yet another empty promise in an off-season that has been filled with them.

The players have now refused two deals that would get a baseball season underway since their commitment to “tell us when and where,” thus making it appear as though they are committed to making a baseball season happen no matter what. Now it appears as though they were committed to making a season happen as long as it happens exactly on their terms and no one else’s. While I do support the players in this battle much more than I do the owners, I think it is fair to say that both sides in this MLB labor dispute are more concerned with their finances. Of course they have every right to be,it’s just a bit contradictory.

All of this is not to say that either side is evil, or that the fiasco that has been the 2020
offseason will permanently ruin baseball in this country. With that said, it has made both MLB owners and players look greedy and petty in the midst of a nation-wide crisis. The transparent public relations statements that both sides have issued throughout this process have only heightened the sense that the fans are the lowest priority in the minds of the owners and players.

While it is certainly good news that baseball looks like it will begin sooner rather than later, it pains me to see how selfish and obtuse both the MLB and the union have been. With just a little more give on both sides and a lot more foresight, we could have had baseball return by now, and seen the sport seize a tremendous opportunity to capture the heart of America once more.

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