My colleagues here at Birds on the Black have all been quite vocal about the Owner v. Player v. MiLB v. COVID v. CBA looming v. ???? "negotiations" that have been going on over the past month or longer and I have largely kept my mouth shut. They are not alone. Everywhere you look, or listen, baseball people are talking about the myriad problems that MLB is or will be going through this year or in the immediate future. I have been sitting back, forming thoughts, trying to figure out if I can say this in a semi-intellectual, elegant way. (The answer is likely no to that hypothesis, but I'm going to try anyway.)
Over on the Meet Me At Musial podcast this week, Kyle Reis, Allen Medlock, and Daniel Shoptaw broke everything going on with the negotiations quite well and got into how it affects college baseball and JUCO baseball and everything...all in a relatively short amount of time. I was impressed with how much information those three could cram into a podcast like that. I thought what they most succinctly articulated quite well was the potential layers of strife between the owners and the player's union (the MLBPA). I also listened yesterday to the latest (episode 8.17) Best Podcast In Baseball with Derrick Goold and Mike Claiborne. They not only did the same, but brought the issue of race relations and diversity (with all of the friction with police brutality of African Americans and Native Americans going on around the country at this very moment) as well and how THAT has also been a huge problem for baseball as non-whites have had trouble "breaking into the good old boys club" of the upper echelon of baseball - ownership and front offices, much less managerial positions. Zach Gifford joined Ron Nuttall over on the Two Birds On A Bat Show called Ruffled Feathers to discuss this as well, along with Russ Robinson of various Cardinals blogger outlets. Those three did a good job of laying out all of the options as well. That was followed up a week later (or the week prior, I'm forgetting in which order they recorded) by Chelsea Ladd talking to Ron as well. Our own Tara Wellman has basically shown up wherever and whenever someone asks (or doesn't ask) to discuss all of this, especially the minor league relations side of things, and always articulates things in a way that make it so simple to understand and in a way that (while some people stupidly argue against her) shows that she's on the right side of things in these times - at least in my opinion).
I think that where I land today is going to be different from what all of these fine ladies and gentlemen have discussed. Major League Baseball and the rest of the world are mostly shut down by a pandemic at the moment. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into everything as we know it. While there are some on the side of the fence of trying to get started immediately and others are on the opposite side saying that we should wait until everything is completely safe, my "side of the fence" is that baseball needs to actually be proactive instead of reactive to this. It is not just because of the pandemic that I believe this. MLB and the MLBPA have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that ends after the 2021 season. AT BEST, with the current negotiations happening, the league will see around 50 games this season and a full 2021 season prior the possibility of being shut down in 2022 due to labor unrest and distrust. There is a lot of money to be lost by everyone at stake in this nearly-best-case scenario, which is absolutely mind-boggling to me.
I'm going to write out my opinion as a fictitious joint announcement from MLB and MLBPA that addresses as many of the above-mentioned issues as I can because I feel like that format would best show what those two entities could do to 1) begin to work together for once, 2) make them the most money in the long-term, 3) potentially win back the fan support that (from what I can tell on Twitter is dwindling at best and nearing riotous at worst), and 4) be proactive and get ahead of all of their problems as best as they can.
Joint Statement from MLB and the MLBPA - Rob Manfred and Tony Clark-
We would like to announce that there will be no 2020 Major League Baseball season. MLBPA and MLB agreed in March to a monetary value per player up front and we will stick to that amount for the 2020 season. Furthermore, MLB agrees to pay all minor leaguers (in the system as of June 1st) and other staff (front office, stadium, or otherwise) their 2020 pay. This change in monetary availability is due to the latest agreement with Turner Sports this past week. It changed the calculus slightly on where MLB owners felt they are financially at this moment. We have wanted "good faith" negotiations all along and this will hopefully mend, what we together see, as many fences that need it.
Let's talk about those fences that need mending for a moment. We would like to expand upon our statements after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. We realize that we were slow in committing publicly to the cause that #blacklivesmatter. We have been working, over the past few weeks since that has happened, to set up a fund to help children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds in lower socioeconomic settings around the United States (including Puerto Rico) and the Caribbean Islands and Central America - from which many of our wonderful athletes were born. Many of our athletes have talked about their paths to the majors, via social media or more formal outlets like The Player's Tribune. We want to take time now to thank those individuals for telling their stories and helping us to realize that in order to get the world's best athletes to play the game we know and love, we need to invest more into the future of our sport and into the youths of the communities from which our current players have already come. We would also like to acknowledge that this is long overdue.
In sticking with the theme of our future MLB players, we would like to make announcements regarding our minor league system. The contraction of approximately 40 teams is still happening. We are a business and in order to streamline our business and give every one of our Major League Baseball teams a fair playing field, we wanted to ensure that each team had only one AAA affiliate, one AA affiliate, and two A affiliates. Rookie Ball Leagues would be eliminated, but MLB teams can still have their spring training complexes open year round in order to house those players and play non-affiliated games against one another. Those players, along with all of the affiliated minor leaguers will all be given a salary bump to a to-be-agreed-upon livable wage. In order for this to make sense monetarily for MLB owners, there will be a small downward adjustment in the MLB minimum salary in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
Speaking of the CBA, part of the reason for shutting down the 2020 season is because of the looming end of the current collective bargaining agreement scheduled for the conclusion of the 2021 season. MLB and MLBPA both realize that it is not in baseball's best interest in this country to miss portions of multiple seasons. The fans and communities that have been hit hard by this pandemic do not deserve that and the people whose livelihoods (including ours) that have been hit hard by this pandemic do not deserve that. Every single one of us wants baseball and we want it soon. More so, we want baseball to continuously lead the way for sports in this country as this is America's Game. MLB and MLBPA will continue the 2020 calendar year behind the scenes and utilize the remaining 6 months of 2020 to agree upon a collective bargaining agreement that will not only allow baseball to be played on the field as soon as is safest for our communities, but for years to come - with the goal to have this CBA last until at least the 2030 season is complete. Going back to the strike-shortened season of 1995, there has not been a collective bargaining agreement of more than 5 years. We believe that the lack of trust between the players and ownership has led to such short agreements and the seemingly-always-imminent threat of strike or lock out. We do not want that to continue. We want team owners, players, and fans at ease about always having baseball to fall back on between the months of March and October here in the United States of America.
We also feel a current need to grow the sport, knowing full well that the contraction of minor league teams not only does accomplish that task but counteracts it. We need to grow the sport in a way that is monetarily feasible to us. It is our intent to, by 2024, expand to a 32-team league. We will be looking into the most lucrative contracts we can find to expand baseball into markets like Portland, Charlotte, Montreal, Las Vegas, Vancouver, and anywhere else in which offers can be put together. That will be an immediate cash infusion into the game through buy-ins, newer stadiums which create larger revenues, the expansion of television contracts, and to players with 52 more spots on MLB 26-man rosters and eight more minor league teams. While that doesn't take the place of 40 teams worth of players in terms of opportunities for those individuals, it will lead to a higher overall monetary value being passed on to players due to the roster spots being of the MLB and upper minors variety. Not only will we look into cities and markets and potential ownership groups through the lens of expansion, but any owners that feel they need to step away and sell their team to another ownership group in these uncertain times will be given an opportunity to do so throughout this process. MLB will make their best effort to keep all teams located in the same city in which they currently have their already committed fan base.
Another change being made for the betterment of equality of game play is a concession being made from MLB to MLBPA. Starting with the 2021 season, the designated hitter being implemented for all teams immediately. That adds one more potential everyday player to which a larger salary can be appropriated at each owner and front office's discretion.
In hopes for a better future,
Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
Should this happen? I think so.
Will this ever happen? I think the chances of this are infinitesimally smaller than getting struck by lightning.
Is the trust there to make this happen? Not even close.
Is this in the best interest of baseball? I think so.
Is baseball interested in doing what is in the best interest of baseball? Doubtful.
Does baseball ever do what is in the best interest of baseball? Rarely.
I posited above "I think that where I land today is going to be different from what all of these fine ladies and gentlemen have discussed." I hope that I at least lived up to that despite not coming up with something that is wholly reasonable in today's day and age with the sordid past of the MLBPA and MLB. This is what I would like to see done and what I believe could cure the ails of MLB for a significant period of time (a decade or so). Do I just want to see baseball played? Yes. However, I want to see it played not only this year, but every year. If we're going to miss most of a season anyway, then let's go ahead and make sure that we don't miss a much larger chunk than that.
That is what I would like to see. This is my plea.
Please baseball, do the right thing. Do what's best for baseball.