This August, the Major League Baseball Players Association is poised to go on its ninth strike. This comes as a surprise to no one. They've been talking about it all summer. Now, the time draws near, and it's time to think about exactly what all this means to the teams, the players, and the fans.
Reuters news (via Yahoo!) reported this morning that "Major League Baseball Players will begin a strike on August 30th if they cannot reach a new labor agreement with team owners. Sources told the [Washington Post] that, although the strike date could change, players learned during a union executive board meeting in Chicago on Monday that if a strike date is announced it would be Aug. 30."
To those of you who are not necessarily on top of Major League Baseball news, the heart of the disagreement between the Players Association and the team owners is the competitive-balance tax (formerly known as the luxury tax). Here's how it works: Major League Baseball proposes a 50 percent competitive-balance tax on teams with payrolls above $98 million, and increasing the percentage of locally shared revenue from 20 percent to 50 percent. For instance, the New York Yankees have a payroll of $160 million. They would have to pay a 50% tax on $62 million (the difference between $98 million and $160 million), thus equaling a big fat check of $31 million to Major League Baseball. What does MLB do with this money? Well, under the new plan, they keep half of it, and then give the other half to teams that don't make quite as much money as the New York Yankees or, say, the Boston Red Sox (let's be fair here).
Here's the benefit: You get to stop the teams that have all the money from getting all of the really good, and thus really expensive players. You're leveling the playing field, as it were. You're allowing teams like the Montreal Expos to be able to actually keep the amazing players that they raise through their farm system, rather than losing them as soon as these players realize how much money they can get from teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. You're allowing fans nationwide to be able to enjoy the joy and economical benefit of having an All-Star Baseball team in their local city.
Here's the problem, as the Players Association sees it: This plan essentially urges teams to keep their roster salaries lower, which means possible salary cuts for players and a much slower salary growth rate.
I'm over-simplifying, but that's what it comes down to.
The average baseball player's salary right now is $2.38 million (up from $1.12 million in just 1996). I don't know about you, but I think that's a lot of money to play a game.
So, what's the problem, then? There are somewhere around 100 million people out there in the U.S. that really hate their job. And that job that they really hate? It's paying them crap. How many of those guys who are out working the night shift, sweeping the hallways in the local factories played baseball in high school? A whole damn lot, I'd say. In fact, I'd wager that if you gave your average working person 10%... no! 5% of what the average baseball player makes ($120K/year, anyone?) to play baseball everyday, they'd leap at the chance and never look back.
Now, look. I'm a big baseball fan. And a big Red Sox fan at that. I'm not just bitching and moaning about this strike because "this might be the year." No, I want this game, this thing they call Major League Baseball, to be about the game, not about the cash flow. So, I have a proposal. Do what any large corporation must be forced to consider whenever its work force goes on strike. Let the damn union go. Drop it. Hire non-union workers, and keep going.
For a while, it would suck. You'd lose a lot of greats, but it could open a whole new great era for baseball. Sure. Manny, Jeter, Pedro, Schilling, Bonds and all those guys would be out of a job. At first. But if they really loved playing baseball, and really wanted to show the fans what they do best, they could just as easily come back into the game, non-union, for a lower salary.
And who knows what greats could yet be discovered? There are probably hundreds of great baseball players that are wallowing around in training camps because the teams who own their farm system can't afford to bring them up to the Majors because they're too busy paying suck-ass player like Jose Offerman $6.8 million contracts.
For the fans? Well, it would be about the game again. Parks could lower their prices, and the cost of their beer. Guys could bring their kids to the game and not have to pay $30 per child in the nosebleed seats. It would be about baseball again, and the owners would have their cash flow. All equal, all fair.
That's what I want to see. I want to see this be about baseball, again. I'm tired of watching my sport being sucked into the hole of being a soulless corporation out for nothing but making a buck. I want people to play because they love playing, and I want to see fans go watch the games without getting fleeced.
I'll stick with baseball, even if they go on strike again. They won't lose me because it's my favorite sport. But there are millions of fans out there that don't feel that way. They're ready to call it quits on baseball if baseball calls it quits on them.
So this is it, Players Association. Nine strikes and you're out. Call it an inning, or get out of the game.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
8.14.02 @ 6:43p
Hell yeah! MLB disgusts me for this exact reason. It's all about the money. I understand the players side (if someone will pay me $250 million I'd take it). I understand the owners side (the drunken outfield will riot if we raise beer prices again to pay the guy hitting .220 $10 million a year). I'm with ya on pulling the guys off the 20 year old buses they ride around on in their farm leagues and bring them up. They'll play! And they'll love it. Of course the minors are a part of the union too...
8.14.02 @ 10:59p
I actually might like my job if I got even 60K a year.
8.15.02 @ 9:35a
I would love to see this actually happen and be able to take my kids to a game. In the meantime, it's the Minor Leagues for my crowd.
8.15.02 @ 9:45a
That's the nice part about the Minor Leagues. It is about baseball in the Minor Leagues.
Well.. about baseball and self-advancement.
The Major Leagues need a big kick in the ass.
8.15.02 @ 11:34a
The proposal is an honorable one, but you're forgetting one thing -- where will all these Roy Hobbses and Jim Morrises play?
I'm not going to harp on Bud Selig now. At this stage, he's little more than a pudgy marionette for the owners, whose fraternity is as bonded as any union and whose greed is greater than any player's. They've come to expect a certain revenue level, one that won't be met with Brand X players. New stadiums, tax incentives and sponsorship packages don't get offered when you've got a bald-headed kid pitching and a beagle playing center.
I don't dispute that baseball players make too much money. Between signing bonuses, expansive contracts and lucrative endorsement deals, they're living the life of Midas -- if not Croesus. My scorn for Mike Piazza only increased the other day when he chided other players for poor financial acumen, saying it'd be a player's own fault if said player couldn't put food on their family's table. Hey, Piazza -- when's the last time you had to cut out a coupon?
8.15.02 @ 11:44a
Owners would never bend down to the fan's level and contemplate baseball as a sport for the Everyman again. I don't think any owner in any sport would. As long as there's a local (or cable) TV affiliate to broadcast a team's games, the owners probably believe they're doing enough to keep the game "accessible."
They may put in a token appearance at a game or three throughout the season, impressing their billionaire friends with the great seats and free beer...but by and large these people own teams as investment property, not because they love the game. They throw money into team coffers to buy players to improve the team not because they care about winning, but because a winning team puts more customers in the stands and more telecasts on Fox and ESPN.
There's no clear-cut solution in any of this, short of "let's scrap the economics of the game and see who still cares enough to come back." And that's not going to happen...because of the players and the owners. They're all sons of bitches and they're not going away.
8.15.02 @ 2:08p
Well, thanks for making my column entirely oboslete. ;)
8.15.02 @ 2:31p
I love the fact that in the Metro this morning they had a front page article that pretty well paraphrases this column.
8.15.02 @ 2:33p
Did they at least give me credit?
8.15.02 @ 3:24p
Nope. But I'm willing to swear that you were there first.
8.15.02 @ 4:22p
Heh. We've got proof. Yay, dated columns.
Maybe we should sue them.
Interpid Media vs. the Boston Metro.