The 2022 MLB season is not going to be starting on time, as the players and league failed to come to an agreement before a deadline set by the owners on Tuesday. Rob Manfred announced as soon as that deadline hit that the first two series for each team will be cancelled and not made up, and that could only be the beginning. This is a crushing moment for the league, and really for the sport in America, and it goes beyond the two sides at the negotiation table. There are many people, from stadium workers to broadcast crew members to bar and restaurant owners surrounding parks, whose lives could be upended if this goes too long, to say nothing of the fans who have dedicated decades to following this sport and now will have to wait indefinitely for it to come back. But make no mistake. There’s no need to both sides this issue. This is on the owners. They simply do not care about any of that.
I think one of the issues we have in our world today is an inability to parse the difference between objective coverage and doling out equal blame. We see it in all walks of life, and here it is clear that people’s first instinct will always be to blame both sides equally. It’s admittedly an easier solution for both sides to be to blame for a stalemate such as this, but in this case putting anything but the vast majority of blame on the owners is simply ignoring all of the context around this whole ordeal.
To be clear, this does not mean you need to revere the players union as some benevolent group. They’ve made plenty of mistakes in their own right, most notably their lack of action for minor leaguers, who may not be part of the union but are affected by some of their choices. They’ve also, prior to this negotiation, unwisely and in some cases selfishly pushed aside salary raises for the youngest and most underpaid players in the game while focusing on things that frankly should not have been priorities.
I think it would be a mistake to implore anyone to have true sympathy for the players. The idea that they’re a bunch of millionaires is unfounded, as many have pointed out that more than half of the league makes under a million per year and over a third make the league minimum. But still, even the league minimum is over a half million. So no, you don’t need a dramatic show of sympathy for starving players. But even if you don’t want to go down that road, this is a matter of fairness. There is a conversation to be had if we want about capitalism in general and our society specifically and what we value with our money. That’s a much deeper conversation than we have time for right now, or frankly the desire to have on this platform. The simple fact is, in the society in which we exist, the money is there. MLB makes about $11 billion annually, and the money needs to go somewhere. It’s about the players getting their fair share, as teams’ payrolls have remained stagnant amid consistently rising revenues.
But let’s get back to these negotiations. I’m not going to try and parse whether or not the owners have made “good faith” offers, as there are specific legal definitions for that sort of thing and I am very much not a lawyer. What I do feel comfortable saying is that the owners do not care about the game, do not care if there are no games. I don’t even think it’s that they don’t like the fans and everything else around the game, but rather it’s the old Don Draper line of not thinking about them at all.
Let’s run through some of the major milestones in this entire process, starting with the start of the lockout itself. Rob Manfred and the league put the lockout into place on December 2 when the CBA expired, which was not something they had to do. The league has played through without a CBA plenty of times, including before and after the strike of 1994, when a new CBA was not put in place until prior to the 1997 season. Still, Manfred opted for the lockout, saying that it was necessary to jumpstart the negotiations. The ball was in their court at that point, and yet they waited 43 days before extending an offer. Manfred’s response to being called on that was to say that phones work both ways, the sort of thing I would say when I’m called out on not calling my mother enough and am desperate for a response. That’s not a compliment to Mr. Manfred.
That was only one of many actions from the owners that showed without a doubt they don’t respect our love of the game, or even respect our intelligence. Take another quote from Manfred from the same press conference with his line about the two-way phones. Manfred indicated that owning a baseball team is less lucrative than putting money in the stock market. This is such a bald faced lie that it is hard to come up with any other explanation that he thinks the fans and everyone listening to him speak are morons.
And this negotiation has had some truly terrible offers, with one in particular last week really standing out. After the players sent over an offer, according to reports, that included pretty significant strides in the direction of the owners on things like Super Two arbitration rules and coming down on CBT thresholds, the owners’ counter was insulting. Again according to reports, the league’s next offer included only a million dollars added to one year of the CBT. That’s it. I will repeat I don’t know enough legally to speak to whether or not that is technically good faith, but it’s certainly insulting, and that’s to say nothing of the tactics like trying to get the players to give up their biggest negotiating chip in an expanded postseason for a draft lottery which would only provide moderate gains in promoting competitiveness, or trying to squeeze concessions out of something like the universal DH, which even the most pro-owner reporters admit is an addition both sides wanted.
But above all else, the thing I keep coming back to is the fact that the owners have told us for three straight years they don’t care about playing baseball games. They can say all they want about how sad this is for them, but at a certain point actions speak much louder than words. In 2020, the players were ready to get back on the field much more quickly than the owners, but the latter group pushed for marginal increases in their profits which would represent just a drop in the bucket, but they still kept pushing things back until we only got a 60-game season. Last year, they started throwing out the possibility of a shortened season in January. And now, they’re doing it again. If I was so sad about games not being played, I simply would not make cancelling games a base position of my coalition.
I understand the instinct to want to both sides this, especially when we are talking about two relatively wealthy sides, even if the gap of wealth between the average representative on each side is much larger than most of us can even comprehend. But remember who has done what during this process, and all of the times the owners have insulted our intelligence or our love of the game. With the expanded postseason that the players have already agreed to, the owners more than make up for the demands the players are still making on the CBT and arbitration pool.
Above all else, though, the thing that strikes me that I just can’t over is how little the owners care. How little they care about public perception, because at a certain point of wealth that ceases to matter. How little they care about the people whose lives are most affected by this, as evidenced by the fact that they now try to cancel games every year. How little they care about everyone and everything outside of themselves and their own profit. They’re inviting the entire world to not care about their product, and unfortunately they don’t care about that either.