Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

So-Called 'Smoking Gun' In MLB Labor Fight Is Just Another Attempt To Railroad Players Via Media Partner

Major League Baseball is attempting to railroad through a revenue-sharing plan in its attempt to get games going again amid a pandemic.
Major League Baseball is attempting to railroad through a revenue-sharing plan in its attempt to get games going again amid a pandemic.
Graphic: Eric Barrow

This is a critical moment for America amid the coronavirus pandemic, as states like Texas focus on reopening businesses, even as COVID-19 cases surge there. The role of the media, as ever, but particularly now, should be that it “enables conversations on issues of public concern, and holds the powerful to account.”

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Should be, that is, according to such bleeding-heart liberal think tanks as… the Charles Koch Institute? Huh, weird. Anyway, how’s it going with those plans to get baseball going?

Joel Sherman, who just so happens to be an MLB Network personality, reported Wednesday in the New York Post, which just so happens to be owned by News Corp, the parent company of MLB national TV outlet FOX, on “what could serve as an email version of a smoking gun” against the MLBPA’s stance against reducing player salaries beyond the agreed-upon prorating of pay based on the number of games played this year.

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The email was an internal MLB office communication that Sherman, the MLB Network Insider, got leaked, from MLB senior vice president of labor relations and deputy general counsel Patrick Houlihan to MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem.

“Matt (MLBPA deputy general counsel Matt Nussbaum) asked what ‘economic feasibility’ meant in Section I,” Houlihan wrote, referring to the deal between MLB and the MLBPA that was announced on March 26, the day of the email. “I told him it meant that we would only consider playing in neutral sites or without fans if it worked for us economically. I reminded him of (Rob Manfred’s) comments at the outset that playing in empty stadiums did not work for us economically. But I said, for example, that we might be willing to have a conversation about playing some limited number of games in empty stadiums if players agreed to reduce their daily salaries for those games, and if it was part of a larger plan that made economic sense. Matt confirmed that that is what he thought we meant, but appreciated the confirmation.”

This — an email from one MLB employee to another — is a smoking gun? The news here is that the MLBPA was aware that MLB wanted to have a conversation, the very conversation that they’re having now. That’s supposed to be what makes the union look bad? Well, if you call it a “smoking gun,” put it on the back page of the paper and black out the name of the email’s sender and recipient — people who are named in the story — and put a dollar sign in place of the letter “S,” it sure does achieve that goal!

Understanding that the league would want to negotiate further neither negates the deal that was made, nor does it mean that the MLBPA is obligated to accept a recalculation of the entire salary structure, which MLB hasn’t even truly proposed, because MLB hasn’t actually given the players a proposal. The league’s idea for a revenue split is not the only way possible for players to accept less money. Players could, for instance, ask to keep the prorated salary structure in place, but seek to defer a percentage of it, in order to help the league get through a season without gate receipts. That’s just an idea — the kind of thing that a further conversation might entertain.

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The union, rightfully, is livid about MLB’s blatant attempt at railroading players through the media, as MLBPA senior director of collective bargaining Bruce Meyer told Sherman, “Both sides are free to make any additional proposals they want. If they have a proposal on economics they should make it as we’ve repeatedly invited them to do. We have the right to respond to it. Despite all their posturing they still haven’t done so. Rather than actually negotiating over these issues the league is focusing on leaking self-serving internal memos to the media.”

The media has enough people in it drawing paychecks directly from the league to be complicit with MLB, but financial interest isn’t required to be complicit in pushing an agenda to return to play, as can be seen on the other side of the Atlantic.

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On the other side of the pond, the Premier League is ginning up for a June restart to its season, and part of that plan is conducting hundreds of tests of players and staff. Six people out of 748, including a Watford player and a Burnley assistant coach, tested positive for coronavirus, and the Daily Mail somehow declared it “some good news!

The idea that six positive tests represent an encouraging sign to the resumption of the English soccer season is absolutely bizarre. Two months ago might feel like two decades ago, but the world of sports basically shut down after one positive test for a player, Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert.

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At least Watford captain Troy Deeney has his head on straight, speaking sensibly about “Project Restart” and refusing to participate in training.

“My son is five months and he’s had breathing difficulties,” Deeney said. “I don’t want to come home to put him in more danger. You’ve got to drive in your own [uniform], you can’t have showers, then you’ve got to drive back home in the same dirty [uniform] you’ve got. While we are getting tested and while we are going to be in a very safe environment, it only takes one person to get infected within the group. I don’t want to be bringing that home.”

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And now one person with Watford has gotten infected. Deeney looks that much smarter for staying home, and the rest of the Premier League that much dumber for going on with an effort to resume a season in which Liverpool needs only two wins in its last 10 games to clinch the title.

There have been at least 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom every day since March 25, and while the trend has been better over the past two weeks, it was only May 1 that the country recorded its highest total of new cases with 6,201. It’s very much still a public health crisis over there.

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“Footballers are not essential key workers, we shouldn’t have access to tests before front-line workers,” Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster said. “I don’t know if we have to wear masks when we go back to training, I haven’t a clue. It is not going to be normal anymore, a completely different set of circumstances. How do you socially distance from a corner [kick]? Can a goalkeeper spit on his gloves?”

MLB is grappling with similar issues. Will we be able to avoid the same kind of nonsense here that half a dozen people in the game testing positive for coronavirus is actually a good sign? Or will baseball do what they’re doing in England, ignore every warning of impending disaster, and barrel forward with an ill-conceived idea to salvage some money from its TV partners, putting countless more lives at risk?

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Sadly, given what we’re seeing from leading baseball media voices like Sherman and ESPN’s Buster Olney, we already know the answer.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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