Wednesday, July 18, 2018

RANT: MLB Players Union Hints at Work Stoppage

I want to preface this rant/post with a little message. These thoughts are my own and not a reflection of everyone here on the site. I understand what posturing is and I fully understand what negotiation is, I do it every day in my 9-to-5. I understand how the use of the media, social media and the fans backlash can affect a decision that is about to be made or a stance that a certain group has. I get it, but I don’t necessarily agree with that sort of “click bait” type attitude and use of the media. Nor do I agree with a potential work stoppage in Major League Baseball, and here is why.

Major League Baseball wants to start discussing rule changes that will potentially combat decreased offense, longer games, and the general thought process of some that baseball is a “boring” game. The MLB Players Union would rather discuss declining free-agent prices among other things and have already hinted at a work stoppage after the 2021 season. Not only do I believe that will be one of the biggest mistakes that Major League Baseball could ever make, I also find that to be the most disgusting, selfish and egotistical thing that they could do in my lifetime as a fan of the sport.

I was eight-years old when the New York Yankees and Montreal Expos, among other teams, had their playoff and World Series aspirations dashed with the work stoppage and eventual cancellation of the World Series in 1994, so I knew that it happened, but I didn’t truly understand why, or what it meant to the game. Now as I stand here at 32-years old I fully have a grasp of what it could mean, and I fully understand just how damn selfish some people are if it were to happen. I am not one of those fans that merely dismiss the fact that players should be happy with what they are paid because they are “playing a kid’s game” or whatever other excuse non-fans of the sport throw out there to try to be hip, trendy and controversial just for the sake of it. If the Yankees are making $100 million off of you I truly believe you are entitled to a good chunk of that, and I have no issue with anyone asking for it and getting it. There comes a point though where it goes into what the players are entitled to and turns into a true sense of entitlement, in all the worst ways.

Major League Baseball has a great thing going right now. Fans are flocking to the ballpark at record numbers, the game has been injected with an exciting group of young players that fans young and old are drawn to, most every team has their own television network that is driving profits and revenue to unseen heights, and there have been significant movements under Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, to find new homes and new ballparks for teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays. Baseball has never been more fun to watch with 105 MPH fastballs being thrown every other night, home runs being hit at a record pace, youthful energy being exerted in the field, at the plate, and in the dugout, and excitement around the game for even the most casual of fans… yet the Union wants to throw this all in the toilet because of greed, pettiness, and in my opinion… bullshit. NSFW warning, whoops.

What are these two sides arguing about? From the league’s side Rob Manfred spoke after the All-Star Game this week and specifically touched on issues like pace of play, the number of strikeouts in the game, the lesser number of home runs being hit by every team but the New York Yankees, the significance of the defensive shift in the game, and the use of relief pitchers and how that use is affecting starting pitchers among other things.

Shifts are up, 20,587 of them have been employed through the first half of the season which is good for a 29.8% increase from the 2017 season along. In 2013, the league saw just 6,882 shifts all season long. The game is changing defensively, and with it are the batting averages of some of these star hitters. See Bryce Harper and his .214 batting average in his “contract year” for an example of that. Strikeouts are up and may even exceed the number of hits in the 2018 season, the league sees this as alarming, but I merely see it as an influx of quality talent that has made its way to the game. Why? Because the game is as attractive and more fiscally beneficial to players than it has ever been. Not because of work stoppages, but because of increased labor peace and the influx of money into the game. More pitching talent because more young players are choosing baseball instead of football and basketball will lead to lower batting averages. Adding in shifts will lower batting averages even more while increasing strikeouts. It is because the game is at its peak, not because the league needs a work stoppage.

Tony Clark, the head of the MLB Player’s Union, stated that the players themselves are reluctant to change and are “stewards of the game.” In a word, no. I doubt that, and I don’t buy that. Shifting defensively did not come about until recently, for example, so if the players were reluctant to change then they would want to ban or limit shifting, like the league does, because shifting is change. Nobody shifted on the greats like Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle, so if the players don’t want change as much as Mr. Clark would lead us to believe then the point would be a non-issue for the players, and yet it is. Contradictory is the word that comes to mind. The real stickler for the players is money, it always has been, it always will be, and frankly it should be… to a point. Yes, I do realize that more than 100 free agents remained unsigned when spring training began including Neil Walker, who eventually signed a deal with the Yankees, and yes, I do realize that those players took a fraction of what they thought they were worth both in terms of dollars and years when they did eventually sign. That isn’t something that the league is going to be able to change and it certainly isn’t the league’s fault that there has been an increase in the need and appeal of young and exciting players. It is the Mike Trout’s and the Aaron Judge’s of the world that bring the fans, young and old, to the ballpark… not the 38-year old veteran who thinks he can still play at the same level he could when he was 28-years old and thinks he should be paid accordingly for it as well.

Again, yes, I realize that the invention of the luxury tax threshold and the subsequent penalties that each team have to think about when spending on these free agents, the loss of draft picks or international signing money for an example, would lead to more teams wanting to build their teams from within with young, cheap and controllable players and contracts, but the players themselves agreed to these implementations to stop teams like the New York Yankees from outspending everyone. The players and the leagues wanting parity and they got it for the most part, but with parity and the control of the flow of money being spent on the players come situations like we saw this winter. Mike Moustakas got a raw deal, no one would disagree with that, but he got a raw deal not only because the league and their rules got him the raw deal, Tony Clark and the Players Association had their hand in that pot also, whether they want to admit it or not. Hence the greed, hypocrisy, and downright disgusting behavior that led the league to hint at a work stoppage. Attendance is still up despite players having to take lesser deals, or no deals at all, and at the end of the day Major League Baseball is not only a game, but it is a business first and foremost.

Since we are on the topic of attendance, I am fully aware that MLB attendance as a whole is down as we entered the All-Star Break here in 2018. The average attendance for the league is 28,568 which is down from 30,159 at this point last season, another point that both Clark and Manfred touched on in their speeches to the media over the break. Manfred blames bad weather for the drop in attendance and responded to criticisms by saying that at one point the league average attendance was down by 9% this season, but now sits at 5.5% down which was grounds for optimism. Clark, though, was quick to remind us all that three teams were on pace to lose at least 100 games with five others on pace for 90 or more losses here in 2018. Clark filed a suit against teams this winter because of their lack of spending and willingness to put a winning team on the field, two of the teams being the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics who are looking for new ballparks with the third team being the Pittsburgh Pirates who just began a total rebuild. The attendance will be there, this I am not worried about. I tend to side with Manfred on this topic, the Yankees seemed like they were rained out every other day at one point this season while playing in a few other games that were at least questionable in terms of weather. I don’t know about you, but if the forecast says rain I am not going to make that spontaneous decision to go out to the ballpark, and I think most wouldn’t either. As the weather heats up and as the rains begin to stay away we have seen the attendance climb back up, not even Clark can argue against that.

Major League Baseball has run all 162 games, weather permitting, and every World Series since the 1995 season. It was a slow process and build up to get the fans back to the ballpark after the work stoppage in 1994, and it will be equally as destructive to do it again after the 2021 season. It will be the epitome of greed, it will be disgusting, it will be disheartening to a lifelong fan, and it will be destructive to the game. Swallow your pride, adapt to change like the rest of the damn world, put on your big girl panties (and your cup), and shut up long enough to get back on the field without a work stoppage in 2022. Unless you want to kill the game we all, players… the league… and the fans, have built back up since the last time your fat pockets weren’t fat enough in 1994.

You know what the worst part about it all is? Even if they did strike and stop working after 2021 I would still come back and watch, and they know that. Not everyone is as dedicated as me though, and hopefully the league and their representatives are aware of this. A work stoppage will gut the game and it will show just how truly vile, greedy, and unaffectionate that Tony Clark and some of these players really are. It is only 2018 and 2021 is a long way away, so you guys have plenty of time to think about it and make the right decision. Not only do your futures, and your pockets that you are so damn concerned about, rely on it, but so does the game’s future. Think and choose wisely.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)