No Season Yet: Again, the Fans Lose

By Reynaldo Cruz Díaz

Many people had high hopes regarding the meeting between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, as the possibility for an agreement seemed around the corner. But once again, greed, pride, false sense of justice, or the combination of all were more important than bringing the game back to baseball fans. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the lockout stands, and that another week of regular season games will be lost.

What both parties have failed to understand is precisely that the ones who put money in their pockets is the fans, and if fans continue to have one disappointment after the other with these wars of millionaires vs. billionaires, there will be nobody left to pay the bills. Other sports have spent the past few years catching up to America’s pastime, and the popularity of baseball has dropped due to pace of game and the lack of action.

This strife, which has delayed the start of the regular season as late as April 14–even endangering the celebration of Jackie Robinson Day–makes fans question the legitimacy of the claims being made by both parties. Apparently, they are not willing to yield an inch, and blaming the other party is the way to go.

In the statement issued by MLB, Commissioner Rob D. Manfred Jr. said the following:

“In a last-ditch effort to preserve a 162-game season, this week we have made good-faith proposals that address the specific concerns voiced by the MLBPA and would have allowed the players to return to the field immediately. The Clubs went to extraordinary lengths to meet the substantial demands of the MLBPA. On the key economic issues that have posed stumbling blocks, the Clubs proposed ways to bridge gaps to preserve a full schedule. Regrettably, after our second late-night bargaining session in a week, we remain without a deal.

“Because of the logistical realities of the calendar, another two series are being removed from the schedule, meaning that Opening Day is postponed until April 14th. We worked hard to reach an agreement and offered a fair deal with significant improvements for the players and our fans. I am saddened by this situation’s continued impact on our game and all those who are a part of it, especially our loyal fans.

“We have the utmost respect for our players and hope they will ultimately choose to accept the fair agreement they have been offered.”

Meanwhile, the MLBPA had its own version of affairs:

“NEW YORK, March 9 –  The owners’ decision to cancel additional games is completely unnecessary.  After making a set of comprehensive proposals to the league earlier this afternoon, and being told substantive responses were forthcoming, Players have yet to hear back.

“Players want to play, and we cannot wait to get back on the field for the best fans in the world.  Our top priority remains the finalization of a fair contract for all Players, and we will continue negotiations toward that end.”

So, the Union, led by Tony Clark, has decided to launch direct cruise missiles on MLB, calling the owner’s decision “unnecessary” and adding that players want to play. However, the end of the statement, stressing that the fair contract for them is the top priority, hints at a lack of understanding between both parties, or perhaps the lack of will to reach an understanding for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Manfred, on his part, was less aggressive in his language, but his words implied that the MLBPA was to blame, by stating that they (the Owners and MLB) had worked hard, and by saying that he was “saddened” by the situation.

What seems to be happening, nevertheless, is that none of the two sides gets to the meetings with the clear intention of reaching a middle ground, when it should be the goal for both of them. It is true that for ages the owners have tried to find ways to cut on players’ chances of making more money (which they would definitely have to pay, of course), as they did in the late 1980s when they colluded to torpedo free agency pursuits.

The first players’ strike took place in 1972, when players battled for 12 days with the owners until some of their demands were met, by agreeing to a $500,000 increase in pension fund payments. In 1973, MLB imposed a lockout because they “… wanted an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) on the use of arbitration in settling salary disputes.” Although Spring Training was delayed, no regular season games were canceled.

In 1976, there was another lockout, this time regarding the infamous reserve clause and the desire of players to become free agents. Again, a full season was played. A players’ strike took place for the final week of the 1980 Spring Training without any harm to the regular season schedule.

The 1981 strike did affect the regular season, as it started on June 12 and extended through July 31. As a result, players lost $4 million a week in salaries, while the owners had a total loss of $72 million. The amount of loss in player salaries, ticket sales, broadcast revenues, and concession revenues mounted up to $146 million.

The strike that took place in two days 1985 lasted only two days, and although 25 games were lost at the moment, 23 of them would be made up later in the season. Later on, in 1990, MLB imposed a 32-day lockout that prompted opening day to be moved back a week and the regular season was extended three days to complete the 162-game schedule. This followed the October 1989 decision of arbitrator George Nicolau to rule in favor of the players. There had been $64.5 million in damages due to the collusion, and owners would be required to compensate the players. Then Commissioner Fay Vincent had accused the club owners of “stealing” $280 million from the players. The strife would result in an increase of the minimum wage from $68,000 to $100,000.

However, as Vincent himself would later point out, players resented the owners after the collusion, and there was a clear lack of trust there. That led to the 1994-95 strike, one of the darkest pages in the history of Major League Baseball. Owners were trying to impose a salary cap on teams, thus limiting the player’s possibility of a desired amount of money and teams to play for.

The remainder of the 1994 season was canceled in August, including the play offs, and there was no World Series. In addition, the 1995 campaign would only have 144 games. Average attendance took a 20% nosedive from 1994 to 1995. As a result of the strike, $580 million was lost in ownership revenue and $230 million in player salaries.

All this, of course, might lead some to believe that the greed that moves both parties is so much that they are willing to lose that big amount of money. A series of canceled games with no pay will probably make a simple scratch in the bank accounts of players with big salaries, because although they will lose more, they might feel it less. The biggest impact of the games that will not be played will be on those who, while still being everyday players, are way below the average salary or right above minimum wage. Another impact to be taken into account is on those players with rookie status, who will have to be on their team’s active roster for 172 days in order to qualify for that first year of service and be eligible for free agency after his sixth season. Clubs have repeatedly made MLB-ready players wait until the team has 171 days remaining in the season to call them up, thus being able to push their free agency one year further.

This proves that the owners have willingly failed to act in good faith, and that although players have shown their share of greed, it comes more from the people who pay their salaries.

Unfortunately for them all, the biggest financial impacts might take place after the season starts. With other sports showing less financial wars and gaining popularity among American fans, there is a chance that attendance and television ratings will once again take a blow. The fans, who are in reality paying everyone’s salaries by paying for cable, going to the ballparks, paying for parking, getting concessions, buying merchandise and collectibles, and cheering for their players are getting really tired.

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