The Baseball Strike - Who is less wrong?

For those of you who don’t give a rat’s patooey about major league baseball, you can just ignore this thread :slight_smile:

For those of you who do care, which side do you think has a more compelling case? If you support the players, do you think their case is legitimate enough to threaten a strike over it? If you support the owners, do you think their proposals and concerns are legitimate enough to warrant risking a strike by the players?

Here’s a link that has a fairly good presentation of the issues:
Hopefully the recent word is that players and owners are moving closer to an agreement, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed…

  • Windwalker

I think the Players are the least wrong.

I think the luxury tax, and the salary minimums are issues I’d side with the owners on however.


They’re all so wrong that I can’t find a side worth taking.

Here is may take. There is tons of money from TV, so who should get it. The players are a highly skilled elite with a very short time in which to make all the money they will need for the rest of their lives. The owners are a bunch of rich farts, often with inherited money, who offer very little to the game. No fanpays to see an owner do a better job of “owning”.

Sports is really different from a manufacturing company, where the ownership makes a big difference and the workers are pretty much interchangeable. It’s more like a legal or medical practice.

What I think is that professional atheletes should go the route of doctors, lawyers, and other highly skilled professionals and set up a partnership. They should manage the game to maximize their return and their enjoyment of the game and cut out the owners. They can then decide to what degree they want to restrict the rights of players to play where they want. By treating the whole league as one pool of revenue they could address the problems of having competitive teams in small markets.

Do you really think the players are capable of managing the teams themselves? I suppose they could buy out the owners, but what happens when a player retires? Does he sell his shares back to the other players? Do rookies have to “buy” into the team? Does Barry Bonds get the same votes as some rookie third baseman? After all, no fan pays to see a rookie 3B sit the bench, right? It is an interesting idea, but I don’t see how it could work.
I like the idea of treating the whole league as one pool of revenue though. Maybe the owners should all get together and form one company, they could all then sell their franchises to that one company. That company would then manage all the teams and try to produce the best product etc… Kinda like the WWF :wink:

I hope y’all will pardon me if I don’t feel too sorry for either party in this mess. Part of me hopes that baseball implodes, 'cause then we might get more soccer!!!

Many of these same issues apply to other professional firms. IANAL, but Law firms hire office managers to do the non-legal stuff. New hires need to become partners by proving themselves and I assume that the same sort of thing would apply to rookies. Not sure what happens to legal partners when they retire, but I assume they sell out their share of the partnership. It would be nice if baseball players took a long term view and did things for the good of the game. Trying to increase the value of the partnership may help incentivise (is that a word?) them.

I know there are tons more issues like the ones you raised. The point I am trying to make is that the players are the ones that make or break the game and they could really be in control if they wanted. Don’t strike, just quit and form a new league.

It is an interesting idea, and perhaps I was to quick to dismiss it. It would certainly add some drama to the game! I have worked in a large law firm before, and one of the major problems is that the great lawyers (who are also the people who bring in the most business) tend to have the most power, but may not be the best managers. But, even with that they stay in business! So, I suppose there is no reason to think a similar thing couldn’t be done in MLB.

There were some good things from the old days (pre 1945), but there were some bad things too. We’re not going back to the old days, that’s for sure. I think because BB didn’t have a governor on it (threat of anti-trust) for all of it’s history, this is what we’ve got. I agree that the players are perhaps ‘kess wrong’, but I think that’s simplifying it. Expansion went too fast and was only for the money. Now we have 32 or so teams and only half or less are solvent (or that’s what we hear! :rolleyes: ). Contraction is a dirty word but maybe that’s what needed. IMHO we need a disinterested (not uninterested) commissioner. We need better controls on the money. We need a lot of things, many of which will not happen.

Sadly, I feel any solution this year will just be a holding action. I agree with Rhum Runner in that BB will just eventually implode. Too bad for those players just starting out, they’ll have to get a real job. :eek:

Give me the NFL. ;j

Ah yes, the NFL…the league with no guaranteed contracts. Hope you don’t get hurt out there, son :slight_smile:

As for baseball, the entire mess is the owners’ fault. Strictly because of past behavior. The owners’ have been screaming “wolf” at the top of their lungs since free agency began and every time their cries have been untrue. Now no one believes them or takes them seriously. They have acted illegally in the past, with collusion. Now no one thinks they are trustworthy.

Nobody believes the books AREN’T cooked. Nobody believes that even HALF the teams are going under. Most people believe it’s all another ploy by the owners.

The owners may be right that contraction is what’s needed. They may be right that there is a need for a salary cap or a luxury tax or increased revenue sharing or all three. But they have zero credibility anymore, the union doesn’t trust them because of the number of times they’ve been stabbed in the back, and the fans hate their guts.

Not only that, they KNOW the players will never agree to a salary cap or to a luxury tax or to contraction. So stop forcing the issue for this contract! If you want to work it out, set up a three or four year labor contract, then during those few years, honestly and fairly work out an agreement that helps correct what’s wrong with the financial structure with full cooperation from the union. Instead of waiting until the last minute.

In other words, owners, I have just one thing to say to you :wallym7:

Which side DESERVES more money is a matter of little importance to me.

However, one thing is certain; the players have been, for the most part, quite honest about their intentions and the state of the union. Their stance has always been relatively transparent and open. The owners have lied, and lied, and lied some more. The owners have lied to Congress about their finances. The owners are blackmailing state and municipal governments into building stadiums for them on the backs of working-class taxpayers. The owners colluded illegally against the players. The owners are floating the ridiculous “contraction” idea as extortion aginst cities that won’t give them free stadiums.

It’s not the PLAYERS lying about the financial state of the industry or blackmailing local governments. It’s not the players who want to rig the labour market. It’s not the players who are the only private industry in the United States exempt from anti-trust law. It’s not the players who manipulate franchise sales and hide massive conflicts of interest.

The players have always wanted the same thing; an open and free market for labour. That’s it. They want this among teams because MLB is a monopsony for their services; if MLB teams collude to reduce salaries the players are screwed, because you can’t “sell” baseball labout to any comparable organization. The players stance is, and has always been, a free market. It has never changed, and it never will change. The owners’ stance has, and always will be, an UNFREE market.

It’s really, really important to understand something; the owners are not interested in competitive balance. I know you hear them blather about how Kansas City can’t win the World Series, but the purpose of every move they’ve ever made is to reduce salaries. Everything the owners have ever done was designed to reduce salaries, across the league. Bud Selig doesn’t REALLY care that much about competitive balance, which is as balanced now as it’s ever been anyway; their machinations are designed to reduce salaries and nothing else. When they say otherwise, they’re lying.

So I have to side with the players. They’re honest, upfront, and asking for something everyone else in the country takes for granted; the right to freely work for whomever they will and let the market decide what the salaries will be. The owners, on the other hand, have lied repeatedly, lied about almost every facedt of the issue. I don’t like liars.

I have sided with the players on nearly every baseball labor issue. Free agency is the epitome of the free market, and the owners’ century-long support of the reserve clause was an evil that should never have been tolerated under the laws of this nation. Salaray caps? Minimum payrolls? Luxury taxes? I hate 'em with a passion, since they’re concerted efforts by a cartel to rig the free market.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to see that on one major issue–revenue sharing–the owners’ position lines up with mine almost perfectly this time around. The owners want to split local revenue 50-50 between home team and everybody else. Economically, this is a very sound idea. The Yankees take in something like $80 million per year in local broadcast revenue–but there would be no broadcasts at all without the other teams they play. Thus, “local” revenue is entirely dependent on non-local teams. Under the current system, those non-local teams get nothing, just as the Yankees get nothing when they go play the Devil Rays or the Royals.

If every team was a free agent, each would negotiate with the other to split the revenues from those broadcasts–and ticket sales and other local revenue too. But since this is a league we’re talking about, it seems philosophically sound to split the local revenues right in half, with each team receiving an equal share of the pooled revenue. And that’s pretty much what the owners are asking for on revenue sharing (with a luxury tax and other anti-competitive measures thrown in too, of course).

One other random thought about how to improve the game: An absolute ban on in-season trades.

It seems like nobody is willing to argue, for the sake of debate, that the owners are less wrong.

I’d do it, but it would probably digust me too much.

Rick, you’re right about everything but about the players wanting a free market. In my opinion, armed only with my Econ 101 info, the current market for players is not truly a free market. If it was, salaries would have reached a point of equilibrium, which they haven’t; instead, player salaries have skyrocketed for the past 25 years. The market for players strikes me as being an oligopoly, that is, the supply of labor - ie highly skilled major league caliber talent - is controlled by a relatively few suppliers, being the MLBPA itself, and the player’s agents, and the players themselves. The system mimics the free market, but when you strip it down it isn’t really free. In a free market the buyers and the sellers have equal power; in baseball, the power all rests with the players. The owners have fought the power using frequently illegal methods, as Rick outlines above, however that doesn’t change the fact that it is the players who hold all the power and that the ball player labor market isn’t really a free one.

I certainly concur that the baseball labor market is not a free market, but I strongly disagree that “the power all rests with the players.” The owners are, of necessity,* a cartel–a combination of entities that join together to control their product’s production and price. That should give them a very strong bargaining position with the players’ union. In practice, however, the players have been far more united on their economic goals than the owners have been, with the result being that the players have skinned the owners nearly every time.

It’s not a free market. Players and owners are both acting collectively to divide the economic pie. The question is how best to slice the pie so as to maximize each side’s piece, while recognizing that how they slice it will also affect how big the pie will become.
*I say “of necessity” because the product necessarily requires the involvement of the other entities that would otherwise be in direct economic competition with each other. The cooperation (i.e., athletic competition) necessary for baseball to have any “product” in the first place necessarily leads to shared economic interests, making some cartel-like behavior a necessary requirement for stability of the product. In other words, the game just doesn’t work well when teams are in cutthroat economic competition with each other. Just look at the early history of baseball, where teams folded all the time, fly-by-night leagues popped in and out of existence, and the richest clubs simply dismantled poorer clubs to cherry-pick the best players for themselves.

Doesn’t this mean, perhaps, that the equilibrium price is very high? Maybe it’s taken 25 years for the prices to rise to their equilibrium level. After all, the market is NOT a free market; it’s still partially controlled to keep prices down. Players still cannot attain free agency without a certain number of years of service, they’re still drafted when they enter the market, and there’s already luxury taxes and free agent compensation.

I simply do not understand why you would think this. There are more players than teams. There are more legitimately talented ballplayers than there are roster spots. Why is the MLBPA more powerful than MLB in the marketplace?

RickJay, the market for baseball players isn’t free. On one side is a loose cartel of owners, who have frequently inept leadership and whose business practices are frequently dubious if not illegal, and on the other side is a very tight, very effiicient, very smart, very well led cartel of ballplayers. The players’ cartel picks its spots and expertly exploits every weakness in the owners’ cartel, but that doesn’t make the players’ union any less a cartel.

Case in point: I hate to quote George Will, but as he wrote in his column recently, the union is in effect arguing for the right of one owner, Steinbrenner of the Yankees, to overspend for players using revenue streams the other owners don’t have access to, to tilt the salaries in their favor. The players say the fight is between the owners, and their right to a degree, but, the players are not indifferent to the outcome of that fight between the owners. They’re rooting for the Yankees to win.

The proof of the sides’ relative power is in the pudding, or more accurately, on the financial statements of the players, where utility infielders who hit .190 get six figure salaries and where as I said above, salaries have been skyrocketing for a long time. I shouldn’t have said that the players have all the power - they just use their power to much better effect than the owners have, so that the balance of bargaining power rests with the players.

If you say that the fact that salaries just haven’t yet had a sufficient time to come to equilibrium, even after 25 years, I’d say that the burden of proof rests on you to prove that remarkable statement. I’ll stick with my argument that the market for players isn’t really a free one, thank you very much.

You say there are more players than teams? Let’s see, 30 teams as opposed to 30 teams each with a 40 man major league rosters, or 1200 players. Yep, you’re right, there’s more players than there are teams, but what does that prove? Then there are plenty more minor leaguer players, none of whom is in the union, but all of whom are loathe to step out of line lest the union exercise its great power and come crashing down on their heads. Ask Rick Reed about that.

(For those of you who don’t know, Rick Reed, who is on the Twins now I think, was on of the non-union players who came to major league camp in 1995 and who walked over the player’s picket line. The owners were trying to put together scab teams, like the NFL used in 1987 to break its strike, and Reed pitched so well that he made the team, even after a labor settlement was reached and the regular union players came back. From what I’ve read, Reed was ostracized by his teammates who refused to speak to him for other than the bare necessaties of the game.)

From my seat in the stands, the MLBPA is equivalent to the early 1970’s OPEC, and the owners are equivalent to a big oil company. With that as a model, I can’t choose who to root for. I love the game itself and the players who play it and the front office people who put the teams together, but I can’t bring myself to root for any of them in their labor fight.

This operates on the assumption that the union determines where the players go. But it doesn’t. The union’s position has ALWAYS been, is now, and always will be a free market. Players come from everywhere; a team can find a player anywhere in the world, and with players coming from Asia that’s literally happening now. The MLBPA’s position has always been “let the players sign with whomever they want.”

A cartel would actually jack prices up or refuse to sell; a true MLBPA cartel would say “Pay your utility infielders $5 million a year or no player will sign with your team.” But that doesn’t happen. the MLBPA isn’t preventing an individual team from paying the minimum and maintaining a small payroll. You don’t see the MLBPA proposing a minimum salary floor.

ALL the restrictions on the free market of ballplayers are owner-supported restrictions, and ALL are designed to reduce salaries. The amateur draft reduces salaries by reducing the young ballplayer’s negotiating power; since he can negotiate with only one team, he can’t get a true price from an open market. Players cannot become free agents until they have four years of service time or have run out of options, thereby reducing their salaries in the early (and often most productive) years of their careers.

That’s definitely true, and the union surely knows it. But the Yankees’ advantage come from assembling large numbers of high-paid players, not doubling the existing salary structure - they aren’t the ones who gave $252 million to Alex Rodriguez.

That’s not to say the Yankees don’t have a significant advantage; they have ALWAYS had a significant advantage, probably always will. But the MLBPA’s position is “let the market decide.” Let the teams fight it out. Let them move if they have to. Let the laws of economics determine what happens. You might disagree with that stance, but at least it’s an honest stance.

The MLB position is to lie, cheat, and lie some more. I can’t support that.

Here’s some evidence in support of that: Salaries are still going up.

What else is there to say? Despite the fact that the market is controlled TO REDUCE SALARIES, they’re still going up. How else can you explain it?

I would also point out that according to MLB, the teams spend about 55% of their gross revenues on salaries. That strikes me as being a reasonable figure, maybe even a touch low for a business with low direct costs and that claims to make no profit. My company pays about that in salaries as a percentage of our revenue. I see no evidence baseball salaries are higher than they should be.

Poor Rick. He only makes eight million dollars a year, and is afforded every protection the MLBPA offers; they represent him in disciplinary cases and he gets every other benefit of the CBA. The only thing he doesn’t get is a cut of the MLBPA licensing fees, and he doesn’t have to pay union dues. And while the scabs were certainly given a cold shoulder (others include Shane Spencer, Benny Agbayani, Brian Daubach, Kevin Millar, Kerry Lightenberg, and a few more) it’s my understanding most of that is over now.

I know John Franco, who was the Mets’ union rep when both Reed and Agbayani played there, was Reed’s friend, and the Mets’ Todd Pratt said of his scab teammates, “I love them, they’re my friends. They just can’t belong to the union.” I’ve heard more than a few ballplayers say they liked their scab teammates, but business is business. Reed in particular did have a pressing reason to break the strike (his mother was very ill at the time.) Their punishment is they can’t join the union. Most players treat them like anyone else, so far’s I’m aware. I’m sure they take some shit over it, but that’s life. They’re grown men who made a decision. Live with it.

Actually, RickJay, salaries are not going up. Last winter’s free agent class found out pretty quickly that they were not going to get what the market would have borne for them a year or two earlier. It’s too early to conclude that salaries are near equilibrium, of course, but a whole lot of teams have been burned on high-dollar, multi-year contracts, and they’re less willing to take on those guaranteed salaries any longer. Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Mo Vaughan, Albert Belle . . . the list is rather lengthy.

Moreover, it’s an oversimplification to assert that the existing restrictions on free agency do nothing but reduce spending on salaries. It’s unquestionable that the free agency restrictions keep down salaries of younger players (though arbitration certainly jacks it up for many). But the requirement that a player wait four years before obtaining the considerable negotiating power that accompanies free agency vastly reduces the number of players in the free agent pool. Scarcity leads to higher prices, meaning that free agents are paid considerably more than if they had competition from the younger players.

All right Rick, you disagree with me that the labor market for baseball players isn’t really a free one, and you also disagree with me that the MLBPA functions as a cartel in order to artificially keep the labor price high. Maybe you’ll agree with Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLBPA. In Miller’s memoir," A Whole Different Ballgame: The Sport and Business of Baseball" (1991) at pages 254-267, in reference to the union’s negotiations in 1976 after the Messersmith decision, Miller stated that the players themselves systematically limited their own free-agency, because unqualified, wide-open, every player goes into the market every year free-agency system would glut the market with available players and thereby overincrease supply, reduce demand and suppress their own salaries. Miller noted that among the owners only Charlie O. Finley of Oakland was perceptive enough to argue that the owners should agree to unlimited free agency for just that reason, but because Finley’s had many enemies within the owners’ cartel nobody there listened to him even though they should have. As a result, Miller shrewdly negotiated the system - still largely intact - whereby only a relatively limited number of players become free agents each year, thereby artificially and continually skewing the market in the players’ favor. And a market skewed to limit supply, even when skewed under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, by definition isn’t a free market.

Getting back to the OP, as a baseball fan picking sides in this fight is like a TV consumer picking sides in a fight between the Screen Actors Guild or the script writers union and the TV networks - I’m indifferent towards the outcome and just want them to settle the dispute so I get to watch some new shows. Just settle the damn thing and be done with it.

I’ve heard this argument before. There’s some sense to it, but it also blithely ignores the fact that limited free agency reduces demand at the same time that it reduces supply.

There are 30 teams, so you need 30 starting first basemen. If every one of the 30 starting first basemen became free agents, you’d increase to supply of available first basemen - but you’d also increase demand. In a limited free agent market you may have limited free agents available, but you also have fewer teams that need the spot filled. If Fred McGriff becomes a free agent this offseason he may be a highly desired first baseman, but a lot of teams won’t bother bidding for his services because they have that spot filled. New York won’t want him, Toronto won’t want him, Houston won’t, Texas won’t, Seattle won’t, and so on. McGriff will only be desired by teams without comparatively valuable first basemen who don’t have more pressing needs they want to put their money towards.

On the other hand, if Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado et al. are all released tomorrow, the supply of first basemen shoots up, which causes downward pressure on salaries - but now the Yankees, Blue Jays et al. are in need of a first baseman, which counteracts that effect. The supply and demand functions are tied together with respect to the extent of free agency. That’s why the MLBPA - long after Marvin Miller - negotiated the major league service time for free agency DOWNWARDS. Salaries did not go down as a result.