The owners, running out of feet

2020-06-14 CamdenYards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Other than frustrated Oriole fans who’d like to throw things at Peter Angelos, baseball fans don’t spend money to see their teams’ owners. The owners still don’t get the message.

But . . . but . . . not. profitable. That’s what enough of Major League Baseball’s owners kept trying to tell us while they tried to strong-arm their product (the players, in case you keep forgetting) into playing a short 2020 season and accepting less than their agreed-in-March pro-rated 2020 salaries. Right?

But . . . but . . . not. profitable. Never mind that the redoubtable Thomas Boswell once actually figured out that, over the past century’s time, baseball owners have hauled down a twelve percent compound annual rate of return: “That kind of tax-free compounding . . . is like striking an oil well that never runs dry.”

But . . . but . . . not. profitable. Baseball’s such a money loser that MLB just nailed a billion-dollar deal with Turner Sports—you may recall that its founding father once owned the Atlanta Braves—to “keep a playoff package that includes one of the league championship series on the network,” according to the New York Post. Earning MLB at least $150 million a year more than under the current deal set to expire after next season.

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen couldn’t resist. “But baseball is dying!” he snarked. And who could blame him?

When you’re a group that pulls down the aforesaid compound annual rate of return, Boswell said three days ago, and you happen to be baseball’s stewards, “holding the sport in multicentury trust for fans who love it and support it,” you “have a duty to take the brunt of the financial hit from the coronavirus. In the long run, the owners, as a group, are always the huge winners. The players just pass through and get what they can grab — some of them a fortune but most far less.”

. . . The owners’ position appears to be: We don’t want to lose money. The whole world is. But us, no. We want players to accept additional pay cuts below a prorated level (but we won’t show you our books). In contrast, we will take a $0.00 year but not a share-the-pain loss . . .

. . . The owners are so self-protective, so oblivious to the good of the game, they even want to maximize their defenses against a second wave of the virus. Oh, we will play until the normal Oct. 31. But don’t talk to us about playing games in November because that would increase the chance of an erased World Series, lost TV money and losses for us.

That was three days before the Turner Sports deal. Now, remember, as Boswell does: The owners want the absolute maximum safety margin if the Show comes back, but if you assume the coronavirus isn’t quite finished with its grand tour guess who takes the maximum safety risk?

Hint: They’re the ones you pay your hard-earned money to see in uniform on the field, at the plate, on the mound. Accuse me as you must of flogging a dead horse, but nobody hands over anywhere from $15 to $150 or more per ticket to take themselves and their families or friends out to the ballpark to see Peter Angelos (not counting frustrated Oriole fans wanting to throw things at him), Mark Attanasio, Jim Crane, Bill deWitt, John Henry, Mark Lerner, Arte Moreno, Tom Ricketts, Hal Steinbrenner, and company.

Again assuming the coronavirus tour isn’t finished, the maximum risk takers are also the ones who guide you to your parking spot; sell you the food, drinks, souvenir hats and jerseys and other chatzkahs of rooting; post around the parks to keep the lunatics from spoiling your fun; and, run the park facilities from the gates to the scoreboards to the concession stands and back.

Show me a baseball owner and I’ll show you someone who shoots himself in the foot so often it’s a wonder he has a foot left to shoot. Of all the cliches you can attach to the so-called Lords of Baseball, and it’s been true for just about the entire life of professional baseball, the truest may be that they never miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity. (Except, perhaps, for the tax write-offs.)

Here’s the sport that could and should have dropped the big one on its competitors and gotten major league baseball back onto the field on the Fourth of July. “You get 15-games-a-day visibility before the NBA and the NHL return,” Boswell wrote, “as well as a two-month jump on the NFL.” So much for that idea.

That kind of image enhancing would have been worth more than the entire difference ($4.6 billion, roughly, if you’re scoring at home) between what Hal Steinbrenner’s late father paid to buy the New York Yankees from CBS in 1973 and what the Yankees are worth today.

The only shock, then, in the players all but walking away from the negotiating table on starting a delayed 2020 season—as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich put it Saturday, “The March agreement between the parties empowers commissioner Rob Manfred to set the number of games as long as the league awards the players their full prorated salaries, with the caveat that the league make its best effort to make the schedule as long as possible”—is that anyone should be shocked.

Except, perhaps, by the owners looking for every possible way to renege on the March agreement, and the players—not always eloquently, not always with their best (unshot) feet forward—looking for every possible way to thwart them.

Remember the wisdom of the late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, again: We try every way we can think of to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it. Come Monday, when the players asked the commissioner to finalise seasonal plans, we may begin learning whether Anderson is still right.

MLB’s own Saturday statement said they were “disappointed” that the players chose not to negotiate “in good faith.” Set aside for the moment how similar that is to the classic Communist tack of claiming the invaded were the invaders. Remind yourself that, from time immemorial, the owners demanding “good faith” is like hearing Attila the Hun sing “All You Need is Love.”

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