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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Major League Baseball owners’ greed threatens to compromise another season

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The logo for the MLBPA. Used for identification purposes. Protected copyright of the MLBPA.

When I first wrote about the MLB lockout way back in early December, I anticipated that it would only last a few weeks, a couple of months at most. The league and the players would resolve whatever issues they had, sign a new collective bargaining agreement, and get on with the business of the league. That…did not happen. As of late February, the lockout is still ongoing, with no end or resolution in sight, and the dreadful possibility of canceled games, including Opening Day, is an increasingly likely possibility. How did it get to this point? How did it get so bad that MLB would literally be willing to cancel its own product to spite the players’ association? The answer isn’t that complicated: greed.
MLB players have seen their average salary decline for four consecutive years, even as baseball teams’ revenues grew and franchise values skyrocketed, and many owners made the laughable assertion that owning a baseball team isn’t actually that profitable. Many players, including Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Wander Franco and others have seen their service time manipulated to delay their free agency. The so-called luxury tax, which was designed to stop George Steinbrenner’s Yankees from buying every championship, has essentially become MLB’s de facto salary cap, and most of the league doesn’t come close to it, let their best players walk, or trade them because the game rewards losing. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,” and MLBI’m not making this uphas awarded the team that did the best job holding down their players’ arbitration salaries a replica wrestling championship belt.
Players, understandably, are furious about these shenanigans and have been taking a hard line in CBA negotiations this winter against the owners. On Dec. 2, Manfred locked them out in what Manfred called a “defensive lockout,“ intended to kickstart negotiations, according to the commissioner. Obviously feeling the urgency of the moment, Manfred and the owners waited an entire 43 days to even make so much as an offer to the players’ union. Negotiations began in earnest in January, but as the calendar flipped to February and no new CBA was to be had, MLB threatened to cancel all regular-season games through April, after canceling over a week’s worth of spring training games.
Canceling regular-season games would be a Rubicon moment for both sides. Players wouldn’t get paid for those games, and as a result, they would be under no auspices to give the owners something that they truly want: expanded playoffs. Now, I know I’m going to sound like a wistful mark talking about this, but the idea of 14 teams in the playoffs, for a sport that plays 162 games over six months, is absolutely nauseating. Making the playoffs in baseball is supposed to be a reward for making it through the grind of six months, from the cold, wet days of early April, to the sweltering dog days of July and August, to make it to the glorious days of fall and a chance to play for October glory and postseason immortality. Know why the owners want it? Take a wild guess. Money. ESPN would pay MLB $100 million to broadcast the wild-card games of an expanded postseason. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Win maybe 85 games, get bounced in the wild-card game, but get to pat yourself on the back by saying: “Hey, at least we made the playoffs!” It’s just a smaller part of a wider problem in the game: the pervasive greed and cheapness of its owners.

About the Contributor
Jack Sherman, Sports Writer