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Ken Rosenthal goes off on Rob Manfred and the owners over the MLB lockout

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The longtime baseball journalist uses his newfound editorial freedom for good.

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Al Yellon

About two weeks ago, reporter Ken Rosenthal’s contract was not renewed by MLB Network, the league’s official channel. There was discussion at the time that this move might have been related to some comments Rosenthal had made — at another outlet — about Commissioner Rob Manfred in the summer of 2020.

Whether that’s the reason for the non-renewal of Rosenthal or not — and opinions differ — Rosenthal used his position as a featured national baseball writer at The Athletic to pen this remarkable column yesterday basically calling out ownership and the Commissioner’s office for the lockout. The money paragraph is here:

This is not, at the moment, a “both sides” discussion. The owners need to acknowledge that the game’s economic landscape has tilted too far in their direction, and that the sport’s competitive integrity has been compromised by teams refusing to invest in their products. Commissioner Rob Manfred initiated the lockout, then was rightly pilloried for calling it “defensive” and saying it was intended to “jumpstart” the negotiations, when in reality 43 days would pass before the league presented the union with an offer on core economic issues.

And as we now know, that “offer” — and I use quotes deliberately — was discussed for about an hour between player and owner representatives on a Zoom call and nothing much happened at all. So much for a “jumpstart.”

Players said that a counteroffer would be coming and now that’s apparently going to happen soon:

Given this tweet I wouldn’t expect any progress to be made via the players’ counteroffer, either. There is a wide gulf between what the two sides want and I don’t see any clear path to bridging that gulf anytime soon.

From Rosenthal:

The players actually occupy something of a high ground in this dispute, perhaps even in the view of certain fans who continue to view them as spoiled and overpaid. Many fans historically side with owners, who earn far more money than players, stay in the game longer and make their financial records public only when legally required, as is the case with the publicly traded companies that own the Braves and Blue Jays. The refusal of a number of franchises to compete to the fullest, however, has altered the sentiments of some fans, upending the argument that former commissioner Bud Selig used to make for greater competitive balance.

“If you remove hope and faith from the mind of a fan,” Selig said in 2000, “you destroy the fabric of the sport.”

Whatever you think of Bud Selig, and acknowledging that parts of his commissionership were troublesome, he is absolutely correct here. For fans of teams like (for example) the Orioles or Pirates, what’s the point under the current system? Those teams are light years from contention. I am reminded of a Cubs/Pirates game I attended at PNC Park in 2009, when the Pirates were about to complete their 17th consecutive losing season (and they’d have three more before making the postseason in 2012). I wound up seated next to a Pirates fan who was at the game with his son, a boy about age 10. We got to talking baseball and he told me, “We love coming to Pirates games. We just never expect them to win.”

That’s sad, and sadly that’s the case for a number of MLB franchises now. This hasn’t gotten any better since 2009. “Hope and faith,” as Selig put it, has vanished across many parts of baseball fandom. The owners continue down this path, to restate a phrase I used here the other day, at their peril.

Rosenthal concludes:

How hard are the owners willing to push? How long are the players willing to fight? Both sides eventually must confront those questions, and not in a vacuum. Fans are waiting. Fans are watching. And almost all fans would agree: Not a single game should be lost.

It is undoubtedly true that baseball would suffer a grievous loss if any games are lost, as none have been lost to a labor dispute in 27 years. I’ll exclude the pandemic season here, even though it seems as if there could have been more than 60 games played in 2020 if owners and players could have had less rancorous discussions that year, but those discussions do have ramifications for the talks currently going on... or not going on, as the case may be.

The Cubs are scheduled to play their first Spring Training game five weeks from this Saturday at Sloan Park, February 26 against the Dodgers. At this point I wouldn’t give very good odds that this will actually happen.

As always, we await developments.

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