August 16, 2002
Strike date set

The MLB Players' Association has finally set a strike deadline date of August 30, and the reaction from the sportswriters is sadly predictable. Jack cites this article from Arizona, while Rob has this one from MSNBC.

I've left comments on each of their entries that basically says the following:

The players have one weapon in their arsenal, and that's a strike. If they don't set a deadline (and that's what this is, a deadline), the owners can simply declare an impasse and impose a lockout in April until they get what they want. That's a consequence of the antitrust exemption.

The players aren't making any extra demands. They're asking that things stay the same. It's the owners who are making demands. The players, very reasonably, are refusing to give back what they're won fair and square in the past.

I remain optimistic that there won't be a strike, but I'm really pissed about the lousy coverage that the major media gives to the subject. Blaming "greedy players" as Celizic [in the MSNBC article] does is just ignorant.

The problem has always been that the owners' dishonest assertions about their proposed luxury tax have been cast as the One True Way to save baseball from greedy, overpaid players who are bent on ruining the game. Putting aside the fact that no one forces an owner to overpay any player, the fact remains that the proposed tax would have a big drag on salaries and wouldn't do anything to address the competitive balance myth. This article from ESPN does a decent job of discussing the tax, while Doug Pappas and Derek Zumsteg propose solutions that might actually work. Finally, Jayson Stark seems to get it.

Getting back to my point about coverage, Joe Sheehan, who has sadly retired from the Baseball Prospectus, addressed this a few weeks ago, and I think he's dead on:

I was pretty frustrated and angry after reading a column Phil Rogers wrote for Sunday's Chicago Tribune, another in his long series of economically illiterate pieces on the current CBA negotiations. Rogers is probably the most openly pro-owner shill out there, and this article fit right in with the rest of his work: Bud Selig is a heroic figure who only wants to do the right thing for baseball, and if the greedy players would just do what their NFL and NBA brethren have done, everybody would be a lot happier.

I'm guessing Rogers gets a lifetime pass to the front of the press-box buffet line for this piece, but any resemblance to this or any other reality is entirely coincidental.

The coverage of baseball's economics by the nation's largest media companies would be an embarrassment if said companies actually cared. But because so many of them have an active interest in baseball's anti-marketing campaign--how many of you have consumed information this morning from Disney, Fox, the Tribune Company or AOL/Time Warner?--the work they do on the back page or in Section C is held to a standard so low you can't see it without a shovel and a miner's hat.

It's frustrating to read a Phil Rogers, or a Hal Bodley, or a Dave Kindred and know that their message of jealousy and their counter-factual argumentation reaches so many people and drives so much of the discussion. The cacophony of pro-establishment media drowns out reasoned voices, ones that acknowledge the complexity of the issues and the forces involved. It's hard for a Doug Pappas or an Allan Barra to reach enough people to counteract that.

I, and many others here at BP, take a lot of grief for our "pro-player" stances. The point I try to make, over and over, is that I'm not necessarily pro-player as much as I'm pro-honesty, pro-not-having-my-intelligence-insulted. When Don Fehr stands in front of a microphone and tells me Alex Rodriguez made $6.45 an hour last year, then I'll equate him with the people who still insist Wayne Huizenga lost money in 1997.

My advice is to take a deep breath and ask yourself why, in a capitalist free-market system, baseball players shouldn't have the same right to earn what they can that the rest of us do.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 16, 2002 to Baseball

I still say that the most powerful interest group has yet to ring in (and in fact, may never do so...).

My dream: I would love to see a day when the baseball consumer, having had it Up To Here with management and player greed and the prohibitive cost of taking the family to a game, simply decided to stay home.

Posted by: Lisa English on August 16, 2002 2:51 PM

Chuck, I have to say that I don't disagree with you. My post simply looked at one side of the story. As I mentioned, I think the owners should be taken out into the desert, stripped naked, and covered with honey and ants.

The problem here is that there ARE no good guys in this argument. All I'm saying is that the players do not occupy the moral high ground they did during Marvin Miller's heyday.

Ah, well, come Tuesday I'll be sitting in the stands at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. I just hope it won't be my last hurrah....

Posted by: Jack Cluth on August 16, 2002 8:24 PM

Maybe it's just by normal pro-labor bias, or maybe I am still really mad at Riesndorff for 1994 (that was our year!), but I think baseball is the stringest argument for the value of labor. Rodriguez and his friends ARE the product. The owner's just provide a schedule and a place to play. Importnat, yes, but worth as much as they reap? I do not think so.

The owner's plan is simply to curtail player's salaries in a structural fashion. In other words, it has nothing to do with revenue sharing or competitive balance. It has to do with protecting themselves form themselves. I honestly would not be too sad to see the owners ddrive MLB under. I would feel for the office and stadium staff, but does anyone rally think that another baseball league would not spring up to take its place?

Posted by: kevin on August 17, 2002 12:25 PM

I apologize for all the typos above - I did not copy in the spell checked version, as I had thought I had done.

Posted by: kevin on August 17, 2002 12:26 PM

There is one aspect of the dispute that troubles me more than its impact on baseball -- that's the public's reaction to who should get the money. Americans just seem more comfortable with the owners getting more.

The fight is really about how to divvy up all the money that fans lavish on the sport. If the players get less, the owner will get more. (No one has suggested that the fans will get part of the pie, and ballpark prices have nothing to do with salaries.)

Americans seem to have some ingrained notion that the rich deserve their money and our respect, no matter how little they have done for it. I certainly don't think Americans should feel sorry for the players, but neither should they feel sorry for the owners.

Posted by: Mark on August 22, 2002 7:48 AM