I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.” Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it in a moment.
As I’m sure you also know, MLB owners locked MLB players out of all things MLB earlier this week. Players can’t be in or around MLB facilities and can’t have contact with team officials – even players who are coming off surgeries can’t communicate with their team’s head of physical therapy (which I wrote about HERE). Most importantly, I’m not a labor lawyer, but I do follow a few people who are knowledgeable in such things and they’ve all said the same thing: MLB, despite what Rob Manfred claimed, did not HAVE to do this. If it were early February and pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training were upon us, then more urgent behavior may be necessary. Yet with still two months left to negotiate in good faith to find a mutually beneficial arrangement, Manfred decided to unnecessarily escalate the situation (and as usual, lie about it, as there’s no legal reason forcing a lockout).
Now, back to people who show you who they are the first time…
“The magnate must be a strong man among strong men, else other club owners in the league will combine in their own interest against him and his interest, and by collusion force him out of the game.” – A.G. Spalding, National League Chicago owner, 1890.
Owners bickering with other owners has been going since the advent of organized baseball and it’s still going on today., and as is usually the case, owners use the players to misdirect the attention and frustration of the media and fans. Unfortunately, many in the media and many fans fall for this nonsense – don’t be one of them.
During the last week of November, the Texas Rangers and the New York Mets invested over three-quarters of a billion dollars combined on player contracts. That’s great news for the players, that’s great news for the fans, and obviously, the respective ownerships of the Rangers and the Mets were glad to make the investments.
But it was horrible news for the majority of other owners who either a) don’t want to invest in players until they know the CBA ground rules ongoing, or (more likely) b) don’t want to spend at all under any circumstances. Make no mistake, THAT is why Manfred called a lockout – to stop all owners from spending entirely until a new CBA is negotiated. (If you think Hal Steinbrenner and Jerry Reinsdorf weren’t in Manfred’s ear with some suggestions regarding this topic, I have a bridge that runs from the Bronx to the south side to sell you.)
Unfortunately for us fans, owners who want to invest in players are typically outnumbered by owners who don’t (MLB payroll made up 55% of league revenue in 2000, 39% in 2021) and we’re the ones who suffer. Again, despite owners’ claims of “competitive balance” issues, the 15 seasons between 1977 and 1991 – when unfettered free agency ruled – were the most competitively balanced in the sports’ history. Over that stretch, the six teams that play in Minnesota, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, and Cincinnati won more World Series than the six teams in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
As has been going on for well over a century, the problems owners discuss are by and large imaginary, but their “solutions” will surely benefit the owners while likely hurting the players and definitely hurting the fans. Just something to think about when you hear MLB’s state-sponsored media telling you how serious the owners’ problems are, and when you hear Vinny from Hunt’s Point call sports radio to complain about “millionaires vs. billionaires”.
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