The baseball groundhog did not see sunshine. There will be no baseball this spring.
The owners and players could not come to an agreement after two furious days of negotiations and, as a result, games have now been cancelled. For now, it’s the first two series of 2022. But once one game has been lost, the rest of the season is as safe as a sand castle in high tide.
It’s such a shame. Back on December 2 when the owners initiated their lockout, it was done to “jumpstart negotiations.” The league jump started it all right, taking just a lightning-quick forty-five days to make its first proposal.
Turns out, it was never going to be solved soon. It was always going to come down to the wire. The two sides were too far apart and there was too much animosity. That usually means there has to be a knife held to a throat before someone budges.
So now, for the first time since 1995, games will be lost due to a work stoppage. This falls all on the owners. This is not said in some sort of crazy screed in favor of the players. Both sides are unreasonable. But ESPN said it best yesterday:
“A new breed of personnel now runs baseball, bent on treating it as a Fortune 500 company rather than as a sport, finding loopholes to exert even more control without much thought or interest in its consequences. Today’s baseball people are manipulating the sport not to improve it aesthetically but to lessen the import of the players.
“The sport has taken on an impersonal, assembly-line characteristic; teams play for outs, but the players play for competition, pride, professionalism. Manfred calling the World Series trophy a “piece of metal” told the players the commissioner of the game took no pride in what they did. They were just high-paid widgets.
“It is one thing to watch a business fight over money, but quite another when the people who run the business seem to have little respect for it.”
This is why baseball is all about analytics over instinct. It’s why the shift is choking offense. It’s why pitching has turned into a team effort instead of a singular star turn.
Today’s baseball owners view players as a commodity on the assembly line.
Players are not blameless in all this, though. They failed to read the room. They failed to realize the same analytics that are destroying the fabric of the game on the field are working against them when it comes to salaries. It’s squeezing out the middle-class player.
Stars will always be stars and will always be paid as such.
It’s the mid-level players who are feeling the brunt of it. Data and analytics show that a first- or second-year player can produce stats close to what the eight-year average veteran can. So, why pay five or six million dollars a year for a Charlie Culberson when you can pay an Andy Ibañez the major league minimum? Sure, you might get only eighty percent of the production. But that comes at ten percent of the price. The team’s CFO will tell you that’s a steal. Never mind the intangible element the veteran brings to the field. That’s not quantifiable.
Players need a totally different system. Perhaps a pay-for-performance system. But they have rejected that in the past every time it was brought up. Their main argument against that is: what if a player was injured? But, that is their PR argument.
Their real argument is: that would totally obliterate their biggest perk of all, one that no other sport has and no other athlete can take advantage of—the guaranteed contract.
Players, and more pointedly their agents, would much rather sacrifice the younger and mid-level players so the stars get those extra-long contracts in which their production in no way matches their salary for the final three or four years of their contract.
So, the wrestling match goes on. A new breed of owner against players stuck in an age-old system.
Who will blink first? Conventional wisdom says it’s the players because they will not be getting paid. But owners, while most are billionaires, are also leveraged as well. So many of them have loans to pay for things like TexasLive and hotels next to their ballparks. Those payments are still due regardless of the fact they have no revenue coming in. Also, cancelled games means they have to pay back TV partners and sponsors and others who paid large licensing fees for baseball. For baseball played in stadiums with fans. For baseball actually played. They didn’t pay all that money for empty stadiums, for non-existent eyeballs. Plus, while their franchises have skyrocketed in value, that value can easily plunge if fans give up on them. If revenues dip, so do franchise values.
Both sides have a lot to lose. And both sides seem more than willing to lose it.