Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Reaching Back into an Old Playbook

At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich report that any revenue sharing plan is a no-go with the players. They note that the Players Association sees any plan that is based on revenue sharing as a de facto salary cap, a characterization of which, of course, MLB objects. No great surprise here.

The owners insist they're just trying to be fair by asking the players to agree to a pay cut in a year that revenue will certainly drop sharply due to COVID-19, and the revenue sharing aspect will ensure that the players get their fair share of whatever revenue there might be. As many commentators, including myself, have already noted, there has never been a discussion among the owners during banner years as to whether the players were making their fair share of profits. Also, when it comes to Major League Baseball, it is the skills of the players are what the people pay to see. No Mets fan shows up at Citi Field to see Fred or Jeff Wilpon (unless they snuck a rotten tomato into the ballpark).

To be clear, any pretense that a revenue sharing plan is a benign effort by the owners to ensure fairness is simply absurd. The owners have been fighting to get a salary cap in baseball for a long time. In fact, that effort was a major cause of the 1994-1995 lockout that almost killed the game of baseball.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing massive amounts of pain, suffering and death in this country. To a large extent, the wealthiest people in this country are insulated from much of that pain. The owners come almost exclusively out of that class. One could argue that an effort to use the pandemic to sneak an important feature of any salary cap in the back door represents the ultimate in crass, unfeeling greed on the owners' part. To try to represent this attempt as "historic" and somehow altruistic is disingenuous at best.

I'm sure going forward that MLB will go back to the time-tested playbook of portraying players as greedy millionaires who don't have the best interests of the game at heart. This will completely ignore the fact that the owners are greedy multi-millionaires and billionaires that routinely place their own interests in front of what's best for baseball. They will try to portray themselves as the good guys in all of this, and some of us will accept that portrayal in the same way that elites in this country have been able to bend public opinion in their favor for many years.

Look, I'm not going to shed a tear for the financial sufferings of major league ballplayers. Even the lowest-paid rookies make a damn good living compared to the rest of us. I will not, however, allow the manipulations of folks with many times that wealth to dupe me into believing that they are the good guys in all of this.

Jeff Passan's piece on ESPN's site  had a quote from MLBPA executive director Tony Clark that summed it all up very well:
"A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period. This is not the first salary-cap proposal our union has received. It probably won't be the last. That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they've failed to achieve in the past -- and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days -- suggests they know exactly how this will be received. None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season -- which continues to be our sole focus."
Indeed, Passan reports that the players are rejecting this proposal despite the fact that he demonstrates they might very well make a bit more money off of revenue sharing than they would off of a straight percentage of their salaries based on games played.

I hope that revenue sharing isn't the hill the owners will choose to die upon. It's going to be tough enough to play baseball in America this year without this nonsense. The owners almost killed the game over a salary cap in 1994. It would be sad if this was the issue that doomed it in 2020 when the country needs baseball the most.

As Joel Sherman reports in the New York Post today, there is not a lot of time for negotiations to drag on if the season is really to startup in early July.

I'd love if baseball could get past this obstacle and start debating over things which are much more fun, like the universal DH, roster composition and extra inning rule changes. I'd like to write about baseball by writing about, you know, baseball.


I've been quoting pieces from Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports' Hardball Talk a lot lately. He is putting forth a lot of nuanced and thoughtful opinion on the matter of a potential return for baseball. Today he discusses the question of whether that return is medically ethical. Calcaterra quotes from an interview by a Canadian sports writer with Dr. Michael Silverman, an infectious disease specialist from London, Ontario.

While they are specifically discussing the return of pro sports up there, there are implications for this country, too. Beyond the incredibly important considerations of minimizing the risks to players, coaches, umpires and other support personnel, there is the additional consideration of the morality of MLB burning through the number of tests required. Any resources that baseball consumes is, of course, resources taken away from the rest of the country. If there was anything even close to enough testing in place everywhere else this wouldn't matter, but that's not the case - nor is it likely to happen anytime soon.

To be honest with you, I haven't really thought a lot about the morality of opening up baseball given all of the other questions that surround it, but indeed it is something to at least take into consideration.


Nice piece by Mike Puma in the Post. The title of the article, Jeff McNeil could get in the way of his own Mets stardom, didn't really accurately describe the content.

Puma discussed how versatile McNeil is, playing multiple positions well for the Mets last season, in an approximation of what they were looking for when trying to sign Ben Zobrist. It included a quote from an unnamed "talent evaluator from a National League team", Jeff could prove to be "a five-position everyday quality regular."

The article was quite complimentary of McNeil's hitting approach, too. Nothing in it about him getting in the way of his own stardom, but titles are often penned by someone other than the writer with more of a focus on getting clicks rather than summarizing the piece.

If I had to guess at the allusion to McNeil getting in his own way, it was a reference to how hard he can be at himself at times, which hopefully experience will enable him to avoid in the future. Playing all over the diamond could also affect his chances of being elected to All-Star games, as fans tend to overlook players like that since voting is by defensive position. On the other hand, managers value that versatility, which I would think would enhance his chances of being selected as a bench guy at least.

I'm just glad we have him. I think guys like McNeil who can move around the diamond on defense along with relievers that can bust out of the one-inning-at-a-time mode are becoming more heavily valued in this game, and rightfully so. No team ever saw a season fall apart because their roster was too versatile.


Finally, the news that the Louisville Slugger was shutting down their factory made me quite sad a few weeks ago. It makes me happy to read today that the factory is reopening. It just felt wrong that the iconic bat manufacturer, so closely associated with the game of baseball, was going dark in the springtime. It was just another spot of darkness adding to the overall gloom. Now it feels like spring again, even as the cold weather that has plagued the northeast finally is predicted to be breaking later this week. I just hope the people who run that factory do a good job of keeping their workers safe.

That's it for today, everyone. Please stay well and safe. You're invited to meet me back in this space tomorrow. Take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. I'm not against revenue sharing, as long as it's either for this season, or for however long corona virus conditions continue (no one in the stands, etc.). When you sign your players for x $s, you assume a revenue stream, that next year's will be comparable to last year's; how can you afford to pay the contract based upon last year's income when, hypothetically, this year's income is down 75 - 100%?

    1. In my mind the question is, if you're a player, if you allow revenue sharing this season, MLB is more likely to push harder for it in December 2021 when the current contract expires. Also, although I see your point about money, the owners had some great years where they pocketed extra money and didn't share any of that. And respectfully, we're not talkin about small mom-and-pop businesses here. We're talking about billionaire owned baseball teams. Thanks for the comment, Jon


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