It could just be posturing. The expected dance steps of a high-stakes negotiation.
But the mood in baseball the past few days has looked less like an industry pulling together in challenging times and more like a tone-deaf game of rich man’s tug-of-war.
Normal, decent, hard-working people around the nation are draining their savings accounts and swallowing their pride to visit food banks. Politicians of every stripe are trying to keep the economy from cratering while simultaneously protecting the lives of the elderly and otherwise vulnerable.
And now baseball players and owners are going to argue over how to split billions of dollars?
I get it. The pot of gold is large, and the dispute is genuine. But the idea that America’s Pastime could be held hostage during a pandemic because of contracts and profits is unseemly. And selfish. And shortsighted.
Here’s the gist of the dilemma:
Owners are inching closer to a plan for 80 or so regular-season games without fans in the bleachers, at least in the early going. But before moving forward, they apparently want the players to agree to accept lower salaries to make up for those lost ticket revenues.
And this is where it gets tricky. Players and owners already agreed in March that salaries would be pro-rated based on the number of games played if the season was shortened. But the owners say that agreement included a clause permitting renegotiations if those games were played in empty stadiums. Players say that’s bunk.
“That negotiation is over," players association head Tony Clark said in mid-April.
So two things are true here:
1. The owners are going to lose a ton of money in ticket sales, concessions and parking. Figures will obviously vary from market to market, but it’s speculated that game-day purchases make up about 40 percent of a team’s revenues.
2. If games are played in empty stadiums, the owners are still going to make a ton of money in local media deals and even more in the postseason television contracts.
That means the dispute is in the details. Owners say they will lose money every regular-season game without fans. That’s probably true. Player salaries alone (not including coaches, trainers, front office, stadium workers, etc.) would be roughly $600,000 per game for a team with a $100 million payroll. For most teams, current revenue streams will not cover that.
But the players argue that owners will make up those losses once they get to the postseason TV contract.
So who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s aggrieved?
The correct answer for all three questions:
For the most part, players on the 40-man roster are not going hungry. Neither are owners, no matter how much lost revenue they see. If you want to feel sorry for someone in baseball, save your sympathy for minor league players who are barely scraping by and probably won’t have a season in 2020. Feel sorry for stadium workers who risk losing their meager incomes. Feel sorry for all the ancillary businesses that depend on a baseball season.
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Chances are, this thing will probably get resolved. Maybe even by the end of the week. Owners had a conference call Monday and are expected to present their offer to the players Tuesday. If they want the season to start in July (and since players might be paid on a per-game basis, they have incentive to start as soon as possible) there isn’t a whole lot of time for prolonged negotiations.
What both sides need to remember is that almost everyone is suffering.
Workers have been furloughed and laid off. Students have missed classes and graduations. Grandparents have been isolated from their families. For goodness sakes, health care workers have been risking their lives daily.
In that climate, do owners and players really want to be seen as haggling over who gets the bigger slice of a billion-dollar pie?
Don’t posture. Don’t threaten. Don’t turn a national crisis into a battle of labor strength.
You’ve got one job to do in these trying times: