The baseball owners are driving the sport into an abyss

The sports world is slowly moving toward one of the most marketable events in its history — the resumption of play following the spring 2020 coronavirus outbreak — and baseball has found a way to screw it up. The NHL and NBA are chugging toward returns. The NBA in particular seems ready to dominate ratings and captivate the nation maybe even more than the 10-part documentary The Last Dance did in April and May. Baseball, somehow, has angered its fans, angered its players even more, and turned what could have been a joyous return to an 80+ game season into probably a sour, awkward 50-game season.

When I say baseball screwed this up, hear this loud and clear: The baseball owners are entirely to blame. See, in March, when the league first halted operations, the owners and players agreed that should the 2020 season be shortened, the players would receive their full per-game salary. They would lose pay if the season was shortened, but it would remain proportional to what they would normally make. Once the owners realized the season would be drastically shorter and not have fans in stadiums, they decided to go back on their deal. They have insisted on the players taking further pay cuts, below pro-rated levels.

They say this is necessary due to the economic downturn. They’ll invoke the team employees who they’ve continued to pay (they have laid off and furloughed many, though), and say the players need to take cuts for the greater good.

This only makes sense when you ignore the tremendous wealth and power the owners have and the players do not. This is what the owners want — they don’t want anyone to talk about just how fantastically wealthy they are. They are multi-billionaires. They are multiple thousands of times wealthier than some of the more wealthy MLB players. They should be taking the financial hit here, to better the sport, instead of asking those less fortunate to do so.

I realize it’s not popular to refer to MLB players as “less fortunate,” but in this situation, it works. Relative to the owners, the players are ants.

Consider this: Players have a short window during which they can earn baseball money, and it’s entirely dependent on their performance. If they play well and win, they get paid well. If they don’t, they’re fired. The greatest MLB careers last 20 years; the vast majority last a quarter of that time, or less.

The owners, in contrast, have an unlimited window of time in which to earn baseball money. They have their team forever, and they’ll pass it down to their children or sell it for a massive lump sum. And it doesn’t even matter if they win. They don’t get fired for losing or being bad at owning a baseball team. Trust me, Pirates fans have wondered. They’re not even required to spend a certain amount on player salary. If they want, they’re allowed to recoup some of their Covid losses later on down the road by refusing to sign big contracts (this would result in a lot of losing, but some owners don’t mind that).

Owners have exponentially higher earning power than players, and therefore should not be shoving the Covid losses onto the players. It’s shameful.

The owners will pay for this. Baseball will take a hit. The NBA will leap even further into the stratosphere while baseball crawls from a labor dispute to a 50-game season that should be 80 games or more. Baseball is already hurting, and this won’t help ticket sales (once they return) or TV ratings this summer. This will be another blow to a sport that has had more miscues recently than it should have.

The owners will take a hit, but nowhere near as big as the one the players will take. I’m sure that no matter what happens with the 2020 season, the owners will pass as much of the loss onto the players as they can. They will give out smaller free agent contracts, some teams won’t sign free agents (the Pirates started this practice in advance). Maybe there will be a lockout in the near future. The fans will probably get hit with raised ticket prices, new TV packages they have to buy, and said lockout.

The owners are making this as ugly as possible, because they’re the ones driving tanks. They can take the damage and continue being wildly rich. The players will take pay cuts (minor league players already don’t make a living wage, and many were released in May), some fans will stop being able to enjoy the national pastime, and the owners will still make huge profits. Not as big as before, maybe, but still huge. They might actually be bigger than before with the way TV contracts are expanding. Who knows.

Our national pastime deserves better leadership than this.

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