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Is there a wall I can beat my head on?

It’s hard for me to convey the depths of my despair when I read articles like this about baseball’s labor wars, but I’m going to try. There’s just so much distilled ignorance and misinformation, it’s almost awe-inspiring.

Let’s start at the beginning:

Alex Rodriguez offered to slash his record-setting salary if it would help baseball, a novel approach to solving the sport’s problems as it moved within a week of another strike.

“I would take a cut in pay — 30 to 40 percent — if it would make the game better,” the Texas shortstop said Friday at Yankee Stadium. “It’s not a very realistic proposition.”

Rodriguez’s $252 million, 10-year contract is the richest in sports, and many owners have pointed to it as a sign of baseball’s imbalance between rich and poor.

First of all, Tom Hicks paid A-Rod a good $5 million a year more than anyone else offered him. He was bidding against himself. Keep this in mind for later.

Second, while there is undoubtedly an imbalance between rich and poor teams, the definition of who’s “rich” and who’s “poor” is one of convenience rather than reality. As has been noted numerous times by the Baseball Prospectus, one-time sad sack small market franchises Cleveland and Seattle are now considered “haves” while poorly run teams in Anaheim and Philadelphia – metro areas with far more people – are beneficiaries of revenue sharing.

Third, as any fan of the Orioles, Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, and Rangers can attest, being rich is no guarantee of being a winner, while teams like Oakland, Houston, Minnesota and San Francisco demonstrate that teams with limited financial resources can still win and win consistently. Yet owners continue to peddle the lie that only the rich teams win and only the rich teams can win, and damn few sportswriters call them on it.

Finally, A-Rod’s salary isn’t the problem. The problem is the plethora of players who are essentially replaceable in terms of talent but who are paid as if they’re star quality. Rosters are littered with such examples. The really galling part is that cash-poor teams are often the worst offenders. Had the Pirates not thrown guaranteed contracts at the likes of Kevin Young, Derek Bell, and Terry Mulholland but instead used their roster spots on kids from their farm system who’d be earning minimum salaries, they could have afforded to sign Barry Bonds as a free agent for the $18 million salary that he now earns. Think about that.

Meanwhile, former commissioner Fay Vincent predicted baseball won’t be able to avoid its ninth work stoppage since 1972.

For the record, only three work stoppages – not all of which have been player strikes – have actually resulted in lost games. They were in 1972, 1981, and 1994. That doesn’t really change any of the current issues, but again, it’s lazy reporting.

Some owners, such as Texas’ Tom Hicks and San Diego’s John Moores, said in the past week that baseball needs revolutionary change, but Manfred is confident he can work out an agreement owners will ratify. Moores said he would prefer a yearlong shutdown to a bad deal.

And here we come back to Tom Hicks, who bought the Rangers, spent money like Imelda Marcos at a going-out-of-business sale, and now is bleating that “revolutionary change” is needed. Never mind the fact that he paid too much for A-Rod (who’s still worth whatever you pay him) and the fact that he followed that up with the signing of other high-price low-yield veterans like Andres Galarraga and Ken Caminiti, he says we must now impose strict controls to make sure that other stupid owners like himself can’t do that again. He has all the credibility of an Arthur Andersen executive saying that the accounting industry just needs to police itself a little better, but again what he says appears unchallenged in print.

Finally, note that last statement by John Moores. Moores and fellow hardliner Drayton McLane know fully well that “greedy players” will get more of the blame for a strike than they will. They’re willing to force the issue because it plays into their hands. Keep that in mind before you rant about who’s at fault here.

All that said, I still think there won’t be a strike. The sides aren’t all that far apart, and I think they will both be under a lot of pressure to accept some kind of compromise. Even an agreement to keep the existing system in place through the next season, with renewed negotiations during the winter, would do. Until it actually happens, I refuse to worry about it.

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One Comment

  1. Jack Cluth says:

    As I sat in the right-field seats at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix this past Tuesday, all I could think of was:

    “They’re going to ruin all of this? For what?”

    Millionaire ballplayers and billionaire owners, arguing over boatloads of money. A pox on both their houses….