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More thoughts on the MLB lockout that didn’t have to happen

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Make no mistake: This will be Rob Manfred’s legacy.

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Al Yellon

Before I get into some of the things said at Thursday news conferences by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer, I wanted to share this Mets team tweet with you:

The tweet from Allan Walsh (if you don’t know, he’s a sports agent with Octagon) is absolutely correct. That’s precisely what MLB did, and then took images of players off league and team websites. Presumably this is for licensing reasons, but it still seems small and petty. (They could have taken down the statistics too, but left those.)

Oh, and a “defensive lockout”? Doesn’t that describe the Cubs infield defense after last July’s selloff?

Here are a few key paragraphs and quotes from Evan Drellich’s latest article at The Athletic about the lockout saga — and let me say, Drellich does an outstanding job of not only covering the facts, but putting them into context for easy understanding.

First:

“We made a proposal yesterday that I believe if it had been accepted, would have provided a pretty clear path to make an agreement,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.

But the union’s lead negotiator, Bruce Meyer, said that the union didn’t view Manfred’s offer from Wednesday as even an actual proposal.

“They proposed to make a proposal, if we would in advance agree to drop a number of key demands before seeing what was in their proposal,” Meyer said.

I’m going to believe Bruce Meyer here, not only for the wording “proposed to make a proposal,” but for his easy dismissal of Manfred’s “pretty clear path” as strewn with many obstacles.

Manfred, from his “letter to baseball fans”, about the MLBPA proposal (and in my view, I’m not sure Manfred would recognize a baseball fan if one walked up to him wearing team garb):

They never wavered from collectively the most extreme set of proposals in their history, including significant cuts to the revenue-sharing system, a weakening of the competitive balance tax, and shortening the period of time that players play for their teams.

“... most extreme set of proposals.” I have heard this sort of language before. Know when it’s used? When you are sitting across the bargaining table from your counterpart. I am a longtime member of the Directors Guild of America. I sat in on a bargaining session once and our lead negotiator, responding to part of a proposal placed before the DGA, called it “the most insulting offer in the history of collective bargaining.”

It wasn’t. That’s posturing, and it’s a perfectly fair tactic used in collective-bargaining sessions.

But you don’t say it in “a letter to baseball fans,” Rob. That’s not going to get them on your side.

More Manfred, from Drellich’s article:

“Things like a shortened reserve period (prior to free agency), a $100 million reduction in revenue sharing, and salary arbitration for the whole two-year class are bad for the sport, bad for the fans, and bad for competitive balance,” Manfred said in a press conference later in the day.

Not once does Manfred say why these things are bad. And why doesn’t he? Because then he’d have to admit that all these things would decrease ownership profits. And isn’t that what baseball is supposed to be all about? Profits?

Wait a sec, you’re saying, Al. “Have you gone mad?”

No, I’m trying to be sarcastic and I don’t think I have a sarcasm font available to me here. Look, everyone understands that all 30 team owners run a business. Not a single baseball fan — I don’t think — begrudges team owners making money.

What we do object to is prioritizing profit over winning, the latter, of course, is presumably the objective of the game. When Tom Ricketts held his first news conference after buying the Cubs and laid out his goals for ownership, one of then was “Win the World Series.” All right, they did that, and we’re eternally grateful. But winning just one World Series wasn’t the be-all and end-all, or I didn’t think it was, anyway. Trying to win again would be nice. (Granted, the Marcus Stroman signing could help nudge the Cubs in that direction.)

Bruce Meyer, talking about the union’s proposed reduction in arb eligibility from three years to two (Drellich notes that was the MLB standard pre-1987):

“Our proposal was to put it back where it used to be, where it was for I think approximately 15 years,” Meyer said. “So that’s not a radical proposal. We’ve made proposals to provide certain guys the ability to accrue service time in additional ways designed to combat service-time manipulation. Not a radical proposal.

“The radical proposals have come from the other side. The other side has proposed to completely eliminate salary arbitration, which is one of the signature accomplishments of this union, to replace it with a wage scale. … To extend the period of team control potentially for players far longer than they have the ability to control them now. To put in a new, even worse kind of (luxury) tax at the top.”

I can’t argue with this. Obviously owners want to pay players as little as possible. This is understandable, yes, but MLB is an $11 billion dollar business, and almost a billion of those dollars (granted, over a several-year period) were handed out over the last week. Owners crying poverty doesn’t fly with me.

So what happens next?

As of Thursday morning, the sides hadn’t determined when they would resume bargaining.

“A mutual commitment to continue meeting and negotiating,” Meyer said. “Right now we don’t have a date pending.”

Said Manfred: “It is our desire to get back to the table as quickly as we can.”

There were indications that talks were unlikely to resume any earlier than the middle of next week. How long the sides will need to finish a deal, though, is anyone’s guess. Players began preparing financially for a potential work stoppage as early as they could, [MLB Executive Director Tony] Clark said.

“The middle of next week” is already close to December 10, which comes up a week from today. That’s only a couple of weeks from Christmas and New Year’s Day. I can’t see a situation where they gear up negotiations so soon, though I could be wrong. Since we’re around two months before any baseball event (Spring Training) would be affected, where’s the sense of urgency?

That could pick up after the New Year, I suppose, likely not much before. I could use a little less Manfred rhetoric — he really doesn’t know how to talk to baseball fans, as I have repeatedly said, I don’t think he truly is one.

So we wait. Repeat after me: “As always, we await developments.”