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MLB struggles for its identity

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Dallas Morning News

(TNS) — Read a troubling quote from an owner this week.

“Professional baseball is on the wane,” he said. “Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the face.”

Hang on. Being a handed a note. Told the owner who said it was Albert G. Spalding. In 1881.

You could say Mr. Spalding, the sporting goods magnate, had lots of balls.

So do baseball’s current group of owners.

The quote was actually on page three of the 1994 seminal business of baseball labor history “Lords of the Realm,” by John Helyar. It was published on the eve of baseball’s most rancorous labor stoppage. Figured it was time to brush up on the history. Maybe, Helyar should get ready for a sequel. The next collective bargaining agreement isn’t up until after the 2021 season, but who needs to wait?

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Hoo-boy, did baseball have a week.

All notions that this work stoppage — and at this point, that’s what it has become — is about COVID-19 protocols and protection once, and for all, dropped by the wayside as the league and the Players’ Association sniped at each other. This stoppage is over money. Just like all the others that have come before.

Owners are claiming financial hardship and asking players to share in their losses. Players are wondering why they aren’t asked to share in the profit-sharing.

During the course of the week, baseball held its amateur draft, sliced to five rounds to save money because high school and college kids don’t have any representation. When calling players to welcome them to the organization, scouting directors couldn’t even tell the players where and when to report. Because there is no real minor league season on the horizon.

On Friday, MLB sent a snarky letter to the union, that began with this bon mot from deputy commissioner Dan Halem:

“I acknowledge up front that I must have misinterpreted your June 6th letter,” was the sarcastic setup. “I thought the letter reflected a willingness on the part of the Association to discuss in good faith the economics necessary for the Office of the Commissioner to waive its right under the March Agreement to resume the 2020 season only when there are, among other things, no restrictions on fan access.”

After reviewing the Association’s counterproposal, I stand corrected.”

That all led to the two sides firing off dueling statements after it somehow leaked that the cash-poor league had negotiated another $1 billion TV contract with TBS to air select playoff games.

“In recent days, owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the Commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless players agree to hundreds of millions in further concessions,” said MLB PA Executive Director Tony Clark.

“Our response has been consistent that such concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible. These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB’s national television rights — information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.

“As a result, it unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” he added before a finish dripping with exasperation. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

At 9 p.m. the league fired back again, saying it was “disappointed” with the PA and insinuating the players were somehow partly responsible for pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs that team employees have suffered in the last three months.

The statement wrapped up thusly: “After consulting with ownership, (we will) determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans.”

Which is to say, commissioner Rob Manfred, the owner’s representative in all this, will unilaterally impose a schedule for the year. It is expected to be somewhere around 50 games; whereas an 82-game opportunity existed had these sides managed to find common ground sometime in the past three months. You, the fan, will get less baseball this year than could have been the case. Baseball: The less, the better. Some marketing campaign.

The players will file a grievance over the issue in an effort to get more of a look at owners’ finances in anticipation of the 2021 negotiations. Those “negotiations” will start with the sides farther apart than they were three months ago, when it was merely a chasm. This year’s abbreviated schedule will be derided. The impending doom of the 2021 CBA expiration will hang over the game like a thunderhead.

And baseball ostensibly did all of this in the name of trying to help the country emotionally recover from the effects of a pandemic, not the least of which was a struggling economy full of pay cuts and furloughs.

Please, enough of this healing, already.