MLB Owners Lockout Players

I’m starting writing this on the first day that MLB owners have locked out the players as their collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight December 2. Two admissions I will make right off the bat. First, I’m not really surprised this has happened. Second, I’m not extremely optimistic there will be a deal done soon enough to play a full 162 games next year without pushing the season back.

A semi-third/fourth points would be I don’t know all the specifics of what the owners and players each want, they each seem to be looking at different points of contention, and the other would be I don’t see any really good solution that would be in the best interest of the game without both sides making some major concessions.

We like to look at sports as a distraction in life. End of a long day you flip a ballgame on and disconnect a bit. On the weekends sports of all types can be found on TV throughout the year. Each sport’s playoffs can get us hyped up with usually the best players playing their best. They can also be a way that families can bond together where you see a kid rooting for the team their dad did because his dad was that team’s fan, a generational connection. If I had to guess I would say 99% of the country were sports fans to some degree. Thankfully the internet can remove all guessing and according to a June 2021 survey says 62% of Americans are avid or casual fans with 28% not being fans at all. Man I was WAY off!

I tell you that to tell you this. While fans look at sports as a passion/hobby/escape professional sports is actually a business. And only when you force yourself to look at that is when you see it. Why are tickets $80 each? Why are hot dogs at a game $8? Why are beers $15? Why are jerseys north of $150? Because this is the business of sports. 

We are now seeing one of the dirtiest parts of the sports business world, labor strife. When collective barganing agreements between owners(the league) and players(the unions that represent them) expire strikes or lockouts can occur. Some of the worst were:

1987 NFL players went on strike and the owners brought in replacement players

1994-95 MLB players went on strike over a proposed salary cap costing the palyoffs and World Series to be cancelled in 1994 and a shortened 95 season

2004-05 NHL owners locked out players over a salary cap dispute which would end up cancelling the entire season

While there have been a few since then, labor issues haven’t caused any games to be cancelled. Issues in the NFL, NBA, and NHL were all dealt with and each of those leagues have prospered in their own ways. 

Baseball on the other hand, even with their 25 years of labor peace, still seems to suffer from the 1994-95 work stoppage. It is no longer the #1 sport in America, the playoffs and World Series have been declining in TV ratings for years, and it’s ‘timeless’ nature doesn’t exactly fit in today’s high speed world. Pre-1994 I was the biggest baseball fan in the world. Knew every player. Read box scores daily. Watched a game every night. Then when the crown jewel, the World Series, was taken away I felt hurt and betrayed. The NFL seemingly jumped at the chance to become the country’s top sport and it did. Why were they able to? Dynamic players for sure, but also and maybe more importantly, parity and dynasties.

Those two may seem like they can’t coexist in the sports world but indeed they do. Most losing NFL teams, when ran properly, are only a year or two from being able to compete for a playoff spot. Couple that with a handful of teams you can count on to be near the top each year and you then can see how parity and dynasties can perfectly balance to make it the best professional sports league.

So what’s wrong MLB and how can it be fixed? 

Players Wants

A way to stop teams from ‘tanking’

Earlier access to bigger paydays

Ending service time manipulation 

Higher luxury tax threshold 

Owners Wants

Tie salaries to revenue 

Expanding the postseason

Rule changes

An international draft

I will expand on these in the coming days, if not another article as this one has veered a little away from each side’s demands, then for sure on the next Greg Nosar Show. Let me just as an appetizer hit on one point from each side that I think will do the most to help the game.

From the players wants, bringing an end to ‘tanking’. The players say teams that do this have set for a period of years a lower payroll that keeps the amount of total $$$ to be spent league wide down. The revenue sharing in MLB allows for this to happen as the league says it keeps the smaller market teams afloat. Individual owners call it a rebuilding period, but for some teams that rebuilding seems to last forever, that’s right I’m looking at you Baltimore.

A salary floor is in a way of what they are asking for. In 2021 the Cleveland Indians 40 man roster had a total salaries of $62.3 million for the lowest total. The Los Angeles Dodgers had the highest 40 man roster total of $253.5 million. That’s more than 4 times what the Indians paid. Big market versus small market. The league average was around $127.7 million, twice the Indians total. Set a salary floor of say 75% of the league average which in 2021 would be about $95 million, that would only put 5 teams under that mark. Smaller markets could suffer but the teams really do have the cash to add that much to their total salaries.

Putting a better team on the field by paying more to their players would increase their attendance to offset some of that. More competition would lead to a bit more parity as referenced with the NFL above. Parity then would bring more eyeballs to the sport increasing revenue league wide through national TV deals. Simple capitalism here, and as always you gotta spend money to make money!

Turning to the owners wants, rule changes. I’m as big of a baseball purist that there is. Pitch clocks aren’t exactly my thing, and neither is the shift, but there is something to consider with both of those ideas depending on how drastic you want to go. 

Let’s stop pitchers from stepping off the rubber when they don’t get a sign they want. Batters too, from stepping out of the box and readjusting gloves and hats and crotches after every pitch. The game simply HAS to speed up. A pitch clock can be incorporated into play without doing any serious harm. Players absolutely need to accept younger fans don’t like the snails pace of games. As for the shift, owners want it to go away, and so do I. Can’t stand it. But as recently implemented that a relief pitcher must face 3 batters, if you want to put a shift on it must stay in place for 3 batters. This will help bring offense back to the game. You know? Offense? Runs? Scoring? Homers? The reasons fans watch?

While we are at it with some big rule changes there should be a ‘robot’ ump behind home plate calling balls and strikes. This is simple, we have the technology, we can do this. This would finally end the insanely large or tight strike zones. 

I’ve really only just started but there are, as always, pluses and minuses for each point of contention from each side. Someone from each side just needs to grow up, stand up, and admit there are desperate issues coming from each side that if it were all worked at with the idea of making a game that is more enjoyable for more people fans would be beating down the doors to consume baseball. So end the pettiness and greediness and realize you need to serve your customers better.