No surprise the players said no thanks

The old exhausted gag about how you can tell lawyers and politicians lie applies to a bulk of major league baseball’s owners. When they asked the players to go for yet another expanded postseason at all, never mind without offering anything of substance in return, the only shock would have been if the players went for it.

CBS Sports’s Dayn Perry isolates it: “[A]n expanded postseason largely benefits the owners, not the players. According to the terms of the [collective bargaining agreement]—stunning use of italics forthcoming—all postseason television revenues go to the owners. The players, in turn, get a share of the gate revenues, which is a significantly smaller slice of the pie.”

It’ll be smaller, too, depending upon the continuing pandemic protocols that might yet be in place come the next postseason, even if the owners were willing to pay the players their full 162-game salaries on a 154-game schedule. The owners only think they’re being benevolent and caring about their players’ safety.

“If, however, player safety was truly the prevailing concern for MLB,” Perry writes, “then they would’ve proposed that schedule shift by itself and not appended to it a call for expanded playoffs, which benefits owners far more than players.”

Speaking of player safety, how concerned for player safety were the owners last year in allowing fans to attend League Championship Series and World Series games? Or when Justin Turner was allowed back onto the field to celebrate with his World Series-winning Dodgers after he’d just been informed he was COVID-19 positive?

And how concerned are they for pitchers’ safety if they’re refusing to show sense, keep the universal designated hitter permanent, and not use it as leverage to force more permanently-expanded postseasons that compromise competition while fattening their bank accounts?

I’ve argued on behalf of the universal DH until I’m bloated from it because a pitcher’s lineup spot is the least productive in baseball, and that’s not something that suddenly arrived with the advent of the DH in the American League in 1973. That argument was made as far back as 1891 by a National League owner. So knock it off with the lie that the DH is the American League’s continuing plot to dilute baseball.

Now, ponder this, as Perry and his CBS colleague Mike Axisa do: Last year’s pandemic-mandated short, irregular season meant pitchers having far shorter, smaller work loads. Even with a 154-game schedule they’ll be working their way back to full. “It shouldn’t be a labor issue either,” Axisa writes.

MLB should want to keep pitchers healthy — starting pitchers are the closest thing this sport has to a “main character”—and keep their best players on the field. A universal DH helps accomplish that. Reducing injury risk at a time when pitchers are coming off a bizarre year with small workloads is a no-brainer. The universal DH is good for everyone.

By the way, you can also stop lying about the “additional jobs” the universal DH would bring. It won’t, even if it means National League teams having places for DH-types who can still swing even if they’ve become or always were seditious fielders.

What it will do, as Axisa says, is turn fifteen bench seats into fifteen full-time jobs, including opening places for those DH-types. It’ll remove useless bats from having to check in at the plate in the number nine hole. It’ll put useful bats into the lineup at more regular intervals.

You can also give up the lie about the universal DH removing “strategy” from the game. With that dead lineup spot brought back to life, National League managers would have some very creative options available. Maybe they’d like a second cleanup hitter in that spot? An additional leadoff-type hitter?

Maybe they can also do what American League managers have done for years with the DH slot: give one of their regulars a extra day or two off from the field, asking him nothing more than swinging the bat a few times, and have those guys a little more fresh down the stretch of a pennant race and into the postseason.

There’s also no reason to make a bargaining chip out of the seven-inning doubleheader except owners’ avarice. In some ways making the seven-inning doubleheader permanent is more important than the universal DH for safety’s sake. We got a few because of the COVID-related postponements last year. In just a 154-game season we could be getting lots more.

“We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year,” Axisa says. “MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.” Tell that to Joe and Jane Fan who still don’t get things like that.

Once upon a time teams were liable to play between 20-25 doubleheaders a season. (The single-season record is 44 such twin bills, played by the 1943 White Sox, in case you wondered.) If they’d thought of the seven-inning doubleheader back in the Good Old Days, the doubleheader never would have disappeared except for makeup games.

I’ve also argued until my spleen couldn’t stand it that the postseason is already expanded too much as it is. The owners may be banking mucho millions but the competition is already diluted and the audiences who can’t buy tickets for postseason game packages are already saturated with postseason baseball. Is the common good of the game really the same thing as making money for it, after all?

You already have teams thinking they don’t have to go the extra distances to compete when they can settle for the thrills and chills of fighting to the last breath to finish in second place. You think baseball has tanking issues now? Wait till you see them if last fall’s postseason should become baseball’s permanent future. Three third-place teams and one fourth-place team got to the 2020 postseason. Where’s the anti-tanking incentive?

“Lower the bar for contention, which is what an expanded postseason does, and teams aren’t going to spend as much,” Perry says. “Even at the top end, the idea of having to claw through another round of the playoffs is a disincentive for teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, and Mets to fortify rosters they already see as being playoff-worthy.”

. . . [T]he players aren’t likely to give away a strong bargaining piece like the expanded postseason unless it’s in exchange for something of similar import. From the players’ standpoint, they’d presumably like to address their shrinking share of league revenues, the occasional practice of service-time manipulation (i.e., when teams hold back a clearly ready prospect in order to delay his free agency or arbitration eligibility for a full year), tanking, the failure of the minimum salary to keep pace with revenue growth in the sport, and teams’ increasing treatment of the luxury tax threshold as a hard cap, among other matters. Addressing any of those things will be a heavy lift.

The novelties that need to disappear post haste, of course, are the free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning and the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. The extra-inning tiebreaker should last only as long as the pan-damn-ic does. Once we’re dead last certain the coronavirus is either extinct or down to levels so manageable and medically fixable that we can dump the masks and the protocols, that rule should disappear.

But spare us any continuing nonsense about ensuring safety when the owners clearly use the universal DH and other things as leverage to try forcing the players to re-negotiate the current collective bargaining agreement before it’s time to re-negotiate. You can count on maybe half a hand which owners aren’t lying every time they move their lips.

Why should the players—who actually want the universal DH and probably would go for the seven-inning doubleheader—negotiate prematurely when they’re going to come up with the short end of a stick that’s already been shortened just so? Especially knowing that conceding the more permanent expanded postseason means further-diluted competition?

“MLB ownership isn’t going to let a crisis go to waste,” Perry says, “and that’s why they’re seeking to alter the structure of the 2021 season even though said structure should be considered a settled matter.” Line drive, base hit.

The Show will go on, but . . .

2020-06-23 ManfredBallsOK, so the universal designated hitter won’t be coming just yet. That ought to settle the more stubborn traditionalists, who forget often enough that there’ve been a few traditions baseball was better off without and moved to eliminate them appropriately.

But it looks like we’re going to have major league baseball this year, after all. It also looks like it’s going to be nerve wracking, not just because of a sixty-game season by itself but because the continuing coronavirus world tour may make a few more stops baseball isn’t going to like.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays have had to close their Florida camps when five Phillies-organisation players and one such Blue Jay tested COVID-19 positive. As of Sunday, according to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, forty players and/or team staffers have tested positive for the virus.

And when the Show teams return to work a quick-and-dirty delayed spring training, it looks like they’ll be doing it in their home cities instead of at their normal spring training camps in hard enough-hit Arizona and Florida. Which makes things perhaps a little simpler for most but a little trickier for the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That assumes the players can handle such a brief spring training. The Major League Baseball Players Association has until five o’clock Eastern time today to let MLB know the players can report for such abbreviated and re-located spring training by 1 July, with a projected 24 July season opening. Not exactly the (all things considered) ideal Fourth of July season opening many thought would have been big enough.

While you ponder how not-so-great both sides in the MLB impasse have looked, ponder concurently why there was such an impasse in the first place. The owners and commissioner Rob Manfred tried to renege on a late March deal with the players, plain enough and simple enough, for all the complications that followed. If you want a thumbnail sketch here and now, you won’t get much better than NBC Sports’s Craig Calcaterra:

The terms of that basic framework: the players earned the right to receive prorated pay for however many games played and Major League Baseball would get to decide how many games would, in fact, be played. In light of that, one might’ve assumed that when it came time to set up a 2020 season, it’d be a pretty straightforward thing: the owners, per the March Agreement, would simply say “we’ll play a season of X games” and it’d be done.

Except when the owners first spoke, and proposed an 82-game season in early May, it came with a catch: a demand that the players give up their previously-negotiated right to prorated pay and accept different financial terms. Legally speaking the owners had no right to ask for that and the players were under no obligation to negotiate that. They declined to do so and, instead, countered with various proposals on season length and did not negotiate pay rate. The owners, nonetheless, spent more than a month asking for the players to abandon their rights to prorated pay, proposing multiple alternative schemes. It was not until June 17 — after the players said they would no longer negotiate if MLB kept including pay concessions in their offers and, instead, simply demanded that MLB impose a season and be done with it — that MLB came back with its first offer that complied with the March Agreement.

In shorter words, it took the Show this long to start setting a season because the owners tried—in the middle of a pandemic scaring the hell out of a country that needed the Show to help keep morale alive when nobody knows just when the coronavirus world tour will end at last—to use it as a shield to pull a fast one on the players whose previous inconsistent unity came together the moment they smelled this rat.

Calcaterra also reminds us that relations between the owners and the players weren’t exactly friendly before the pandemic forced baseball’s limbo in March:

The owners had been eating the players’ lunch in recent years, having negotiated a couple of owner-friendly labor deals and, on top of that, putting the screws to players in free agency. In light of that there was already a lot of mistrust and, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in December 2021, each side was already beginning to mobilize for labor battle. Reacting to the pandemic and coming to some sort of an agreement to deal with it would’ve been difficult in even the best of circumstances, and the owners and the players were nowhere close to being in the best of circumstances as the 2020 season was about to get underway.

The players’ lesser cohesion between 2016 and March may have seduced the owners into thinking that, with their continuous tries at reneging on the March agreement, they “could, once again, exploit rifts in the union and get a favorable deal as a result.” Oops. The players hollered foul and stuck to it. For now.

The questions to come include whether they’ll stay so cohesive when it comes time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2021 season. Neither Manfred nor Players Association executive director Tony Clark come out of this mess looking better.

Manfred is exposed as a commissioner unwilling to translate his express power to act for the good of the game into acting as though that good is more than making or saving money for the owners . . . who also forgot what a horrible look it would be when they spent so much time trying to trash what they agreed to in March they were seen as ignoring health implications in MLB’s return.

Clark, though, is seen now as a union leader who doesn’t always read pulses properly and doesn’t always see the bigger picture, including the prospect of recent negotiations and owners’ maneuverings leaving free agency to face what some writers call a potential blood bath.

Or, as Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted Monday, “So we gave up shares of playoff money, eliminating the qualifying offer for 2021, paycheck advance forgiveness, Covid 19 protections, and protection for non guaranteed arb contracts for next year in order to hold on to our right to file a grievance.”

Bauer had tweeted earlier that the pandemic wasn’t the right time for a battle: “If there’s going to be a fight, the time for that fight is after the ’21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. … We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. What kind of sense does that make?”

Nothing about 2020 has made any kind of sense so far. The owners looking terrible makes the same sad sense it always has. The players’ union looking foolish now doesn’t. Everyone in and around baseball knows that.

But at least they kept the universal DH from poisoning the pond, right?