Opinion: Lock Them Out! Out-of-Touch Baseball Players Burying Baseball

Baseball Mar 06, 2022


Baseball, once America's proud national pastime -- but now a sport on long, gradual, unrestrainable, and unmistakable decline in popularity and influence -- is in the midst of a self-defeating lockdown.

Call it collective madness. The start of the regular season has been postponed. For the first time in 27 years, we're likely to see a significant number of baseball games canceled. The entire season might get wiped out.

What are the players and owners fighting about? You guessed it -- M. O. N. E. Y.

According to recent data, MLB players in 2021 earned an average annual income of $4.17 million. Not the superstars. Not the league batting and pitching leaders. Many top players earn *ten times* that figure. Fact: $4.17 million is the AVERAGE salary of a MLB player in America.

Now, crotch-scratching, tobacco-spitting, hopelessly out-of-touch ball sponges insist they should be paid MORE?

One of the current stalemates in negotiations is the divide between MLB owners and the MLBPA, which is the players' association. In 2021 (last season), the MLB minimum salary was $570,500. As recently a week ago, MLB owners proposed a $630,000 minimum salary for 2022 (which amounts to an 11 percent increase over last year). Meanwhile, the MLBPA is seeking a whopping $775,000 league minimum (a 40 percent increase!). Let that sink in for a moment. We're coming out of one of the most disruptive economic interruptions in our lifetimes (hopefully), while the average baseball fan who buys tickets continues to struggle financially. Let's at least agree the timing here looks bad.

Sure, it's hard to justify, make that impossible, to support greedy clueless MLB owners, who as a group are about as innovative as a box of rocks and somehow became the "dumb luck" champions of the life lottery. Call it success in spite of oneself. But it's impossible to have any sympathy for baseball players, right now, who play a game 8 months out of the year and make demands that are totally unfathomable to the rest of working-class America. No one gets a 40 percent pay increase. Nobody. That alone should be a deal-breaker, just based on principle.

Talk about being tone-deaf.

Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. That became effective July 24, 2009. While some states have mandated increases, the federal minimum wage for regular people hasn't been raised in nearly 13 years.

Sorry-baseball players. You're on your own in this fight. Cancel all the games. Scrap the season. Some of us won't miss baseball, at all. And -- if and when you do come back -- don't expect me and millions of others to buy tickets, cheer, or even care.



I disagree strongly with Nolan's assessment.

Are players paid extraordinary amounts?  Sure, but the average salary and lengths of the average career have both decreased substantially due to front offices gaming the previous CBA in ways that go against the spirit of that agreement while reported revenues and franchise values have skyrocketed despite not all revenues even being reported (except by the Blue Jays and Braves, both of whom must report as publicly traded companies).  The result is baseball players making by far the lowest percentage of their sports’ earnings by comparison to other major North American sports (NFL/NBA/NHL).

One can take issue with baseball players making millions (I'd love to see teachers get raises), but these are men who sacrifice their formative adult years for minor league jobs paying less than the minimum wage Nolan cited with no guarantees for a career averaging just over three years in MLB, working for owners with no obligation to pay them more than the minimum for the first three years. The 7-9 digit numbers Nolan is quoting regard only those who reach the free market in a country for which capitalism is a prime tenant and people are given the opportunity to make as much money they can in any field that doesn’t involve an anti-trust exemption.

The real problems MLB faces right now are two-fold: 1) The product is broken, with pace-of-game and lack of on-field batted ball events making for a boring entertainment experience and 2) The league’s commissioner is, for the first time in MLBs history, truly an employee of the 30 owners. Almost every player demand is connected to potential improvements to the product, but owners are so much more interested in immediate profitability than future health that they’re actively fighting against those fixes.

There are two big challenges I see now:

1) Players are sticking to their guns to get paid for missed games (rightfully in my opinion, because the owners are responsible for the lockout) and,

2) Ownership is split. Big money clubs have next to nothing in common with the Cincinnati's, Tampa's and Milwaukee's of the world who want to compete without spending, nor with the Pittsburghs and Baltimores of the world who want to pocket more revenue from local broadcasting rights alone than they’re paying their entire roster, only to not try to compete at all. If those lower spending groups unify and hunker down, we’re looking at a very long strike.

Ultimately, after feeling for a long time like we were looking at a longer stoppage, I think we're looking at a May 1st return because:

-- April is easily MLB’s least profitable month, so the owners gearing up for the lockout for months through shady PR etc. was done with that in mind (Note: These efforts have been clumsy and largely ineffective. I've never seen the press so solidly unified against the league that feeds them, and when individual press members, usually league employees, do trumpet league talking points, other media is incredibly fast to tear those hollow arguments apart, largely because of the immediacy of Twitter), and

-- MLB teams do not need to return money to regional sports networks for the first 25 games missed, and

-- MLB teams may ultimately still be on the hook for those players salaries if the union holds.

The combination of those three factors means MLB is very profitable right now and will be through April 30th, but things get a lot more expensive after that date (imaging owners paying back RSNs AND having to pay players for missed time AND getting no revenue in the process). With the owners having shown they’re so inclined towards prioritizing profits, I’m hopeful for the first time in a while that we may see baseball somewhat soon.

Just to note, I’m not generally a strong pro- or anti-union man and I’ve been pretty convinced that we wouldn’t see much April 2022 baseball since the CBA of 2016 was signed. The players are responsible in part for what’s happening right now because they gave up way too much ground in that agreement, in part because the union was weak and in part because Tony Clark and associates didn’t include player agents in those negotiations. That forced them into a position where they needed greater resolve in 2022.