When the MLB owners introduced their “sliding scale” plan to limit players’ salaries, their plan was obvious. With the highest-paid players giving up the largest percentage of their salaries and the lowest-paid the lowest, the owners were clearly hoping that they could turn the players on each other based on class. Divide and conquer is one of the oldest strategies in the book.
Max Scherzer left no doubt last night how the players felt about that.
While the easy thing to do would be to dismiss Scherzer because he’s one of the few players who makes above $30M (shaved down to about $7M under the owners’ plan) a year and would be among the most affected, that doesn’t work here. Scherzer is not only the Nationals’ player rep to the union, he’s also on the union’s eight-member executive subcommittee. He clearly has his finger on the pulse of what the players are thinking and want. And apparently, none of it is the owners’ shit.
The union, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Dreilich, is going to wheel out a counter-offer to the owners that doesn’t include missing out on one dollar less than the prorated salaries they already agreed to in March, but playing 100 or 110 games instead of the 82 that’s been mostly discussed of late. The nugget that Rosenthal and Dreilich include is some players ruminating about playing 100 or more games while only being paid for 82, or at least as a target of a compromise.
The logic of that is simple. The owners are claiming that they would lose less money by not playing at all than by playing a partial season without fans and paying the players what they’ve already promised to pay. By giving the owners some “free” games, the hope would be to make up for that difference, at least partially. Playing 25 percent more games than originally proposed means teams can salvage 25 percent more of their TV and sponsorship deals, whatever they may be.
The challenge would be fitting in up to 110 regular season games when the earliest start is July. Neutral-site playoffs are the big solution at the end, though it puts baseball at risk of not getting there at all if the predicted second-wave of COVID-19 hits in the fall.
But mostly what Scherzer has pointed out is that the players aren’t falling for it anymore. The real point of his statement is that the players are still waiting for the owners to prove what they would lose under all these scenarios, to open their books. Clearly, the players aren’t going to simply believe what they’re told, and no one else is either, and they’re not buying whatever it is the owners have shown them so far.
And the owners’ offer of a sliding scale was an even bigger grift than the 50-50 split originally proposed. In total, it would have left the players with less than 40 percent of total revenue. That was an offer covered in maggots before it got out of the box.
While the owners will do their best to paint this as a bunch of millionaires depriving the masses of baseball that will certainly turn the mood of the country around, for now the players are standing up to it. As many have pointed out, the owners haven’t showered the players with more money on the scale of their revenues rocketing skyward the past few years. When a player is underpaid, owners don’t simply tear up the contract to be nice. In fact, they’re now generally unloaded before they’re going to get paid what they’re worth, also known as getting Betts’d.
Would it be a bad look for baseball if they didn’t play when the NBA and NHL do? Probably, but only the simplest-minded wouldn’t realize that they were different situations at hand. The winter leagues had most of their seasons finished and are only looking to complete them. Which means most of their salaries were already paid.
The leagues got most of their TV contract money, and is only looking to save their playoff money (admittedly the most important part).
Baseball is trying to conduct the whole thing. And what Scherzer is really saying here is that no one should believe the owners, and that they’re the ones who can most easily take on whatever losses MLB is going to have. Which the owners won’t accurately and clearly tell anyone, while facing none of the physical risk.
It’s funny how baseball, and sports, can be a “symbol” when it’s covering up for owners and their greed and government incompetence/indifference. Be a symbol of union power, highlighting income inequality, and fighting for social justice, and suddenly they’re ungrateful millionaires. It appears that Scherzer and the union aren’t going to settle for that for now.