When mom and dad can’t stop fighting, it’s the kids who suffer. In the ongoing battle between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, kids are all normal people who work in and around the sport.
In two weeks, a typical organization will send about 75 people to Arizona or Florida who earn closer to the salary of Mike Trout’s barber than Mike Trout’s. All of these people – athletic trainers, clubhouse assistants, media relations staff among them – have been in chains for three months, unable to sign spring training leases, largely ineligible to get vaccinated yet, and they wonder if they would be sent to COVID hotspots as cases remain high.
They will, as it turns out, because no one can agree on whether there should be 10 playoff teams or 14. The dispute has lasted most of the winter and has left us here – there will be no agreement to postpone the start of the season until more people can get vaccinated. Instead, spring training will begin, as scheduled in the collective agreement, on February 17.
Most of the blame here falls on the league. The union may be intransigent, but it is not legally obliged to renegotiate the things that the collective agreement already covers, and in some cases, it faces a penalty if it does so. (Once you agree to reopen some resolved issues, you become vulnerable to the argument that you have actually agreed to reopen all resolved issues.) The league’s labor attorneys know it. Yet they continued to send the union proposals peppered with what the union considers a poison pill: extended playoffs.
The real money for the owners comes in the form of television rights for October, so they crave this structure. The players’ position is that expanding the playoffs will dilute competitiveness and suppress salaries: If you can make the postseason with 85 wins, why would you sign an expensive free agent? They agreed to a 16-team format last year, in an attempt to recoup some of the money lost without ticket sales and as a safety measure in case the best teams couldn’t emerge at the end of 60 games. But the union has spent the offseason insisting it was a one-time concession.
The league’s latest proposal offered a month-long delay to spring training; a 154-game season for which players would receive their full 162-game salaries; a 14-team postseason; and a universal designated hitter. On Monday, after the union turned it down, and refused to make a counter offer, MLB issued a statement that read, in part: “On the advice of medical experts, we proposed a one-month delay to the start of the Spring and the regular season to better protect the health and safety of players and support staff. … This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport simply by pushing back the season schedule by a month for health and safety reasons. “
If health and safety really are the priority, why come up with a proposal that you know the union won’t accept? If health and safety really are the priority, why not just focus on the schedule and leave the small financial squabbles for the next negotiations, which will come when the collective agreement expires in December? (In fact, if health and safety really are the priority, why play baseball amid a global pandemic? But that ship has sailed.)
The truth is that it is not, really. The priority is, as always, to keep enriching the rich at the expense of the less rich.
Of course, the season, and with it, spring training, should start a month later. COVID cases have started to decline, and every time another arm is punctured, the world becomes a little safer. There is no moral argument for sending thousands of people to hotspots right now, where they will immediately head to restaurants (both states allow indoor dining) and add to the number of cases. If the league just proposed that delayed season with full pay and left the extended playoffs out of the game, we could be gearing up for spring training in mid-March right now.
Instead, the equipment trucks are heading south. Players will be joining them soon. So will the hundreds of people who are not represented by a union; who are tested for COVID less often than gamers; some of whom are classified as part-time employees and therefore not covered by the team’s health insurance plans. Everyone will get into cars or board planes and prepare to risk their lives, because a group of adults could not take a call from Zoom and make the right decision. And when they get to camp, do you know who won’t be there? The team owners.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.