Who Will Win Upcoming Labor Battle?

ALSO: HOW HOPELESS ARE BATTLE'S WORST BALLCLUBS?

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Correction

Thanks to hawk-eyed contributor Dan Freedman for pointing out that Miguel Cabrera did play in the World Series. He actually appeared in the Fall Classic for the 2003 Marlins and for the 2012 Tigers. HTP regrets the error, which ran Friday.


Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Forced to play a defensive position because the DH is absent from National League home games, Nelson Cruz played first base for the first time — and knocked in the winning runs with a two-run double as Tampa Bay beat Philadelphia, 3-1 . . .

The five players selected before future Hall of Famer in the 1992 MLB amateur draft: Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, B.J. Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Chad Mattola . . .

Now that Gil Hodges has been inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame, the Cooperstown version needs to follow suit . . .

Congratulations to Jerry Koosman for having his No. 36 retired by the Mets . . .

Boston ace Chris Sale has joined Sandy Koufax as the only known pitchers with three immaculate innings (three straight strikeouts on three pitches each).

Leading Off

The MLB Players Association is Already Losing the Next Negotiations

By Daniel R. Epstein

Negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association have barely even begun, but one side is already behind. The court of public opinion remains in session, ever ready to deliver its verdict.

Before free agency and the normal business of the off-season commences following the World Series, MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) need to hammer out a new Basic Agreement that will dictate the compensation and working conditions for players over the life of the deal, which is usually five years, as well as the financial structure of the league.

It’s the process by which the players gradually built power from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, increasing salaries exponentially and winning the rights to arbitration and free agency. It’s also the process by which the owners have taken back power over the last quarter-century, drastically increasing their own profits while hammering away at players’ share of league-wide revenue.

The Money

To say the two sides have frosty relations at the moment would be a gross understatement. Many people close to MLB assume we will have the league’s first work stoppage since 1994-1995. The crux of the matter is money, of course.

From 2001-2019, MLB’s annual revenues nearly tripled from $3.6 billion to $10.4 billion. This might not even take into account much of the new revenue sources that owners hide from players with creative accounting, such as their gambling partnership with MGM, cryptocurrency agreement with FTX, or their one-time $1.5 billion sale of the majority stake in BAMtech in 2018 that surely still pays large investment dividends for owners. Correspondingly, estimated franchise values climbed even higher than reported annual revenue since 2001, with the average jumping from $286 million to $1.9 billion.

Clearly there’s plenty of cash to go around, but players’ salaries haven’t kept pace. In the time that revenue tripled and franchise values septupled, player salaries haven’t even doubled. In fact, since they signed the last Basic Agreement in 2016, salaries have more or less stagnated as owners raked in the cash.

That had a tangible negative impact on fan experience, with iconic (read: astronomically-wealthy) franchises like the Chicago Cubs selling off and plunging into a rebuild (read: money grab) instead of retaining their core and contending for the playoffs each year.

The Narrative

The math favors the players’ case, so there is little doubt that any disruptions to the 2022 season will be due to the unquenchable greed of ownership. The problem is that the media and fan narratives don’t reflect this at all. USA Today recently ran an opinion piece grouping MLB teams into “haves and have-nots.” A veteran sportswriter tweeted out Padres’ talking points that they “never make money,” when even a cursory look at the numbers shows that is wildly false.

The narrative of player greed will inevitably permeate media spaces more and more as we approach the off-season. Ill-informed hot-take artists love blaming labor disputes on player greed. Even the common “millionaires vs. billionaires” retort is disingenuous; less than a third of MLBPA members make $1 million whereas 29 clubs are valued at more than $1 billion (even the Miami Marlins are worth $990 million not exactly five-and-dime).

The facts are on the players’ side, but the narrative is not. Public opinion can lead to real pressure straining the negotiations especially when they contact their Congressional representatives unduly forcing players to capitulate.

The MLBPA needs to initiate a public relations campaign to inform fans and media of the facts and sway public opinion to their side. That is a common organizing tool used by labor unions across the world. After all, when ownership is the only side putting out their position to the public either directly or indirectly through the media the public only views a slanted, one-sided portrayal of reality.

The Messaging

A public relations initiative in advance of negotiations should be especially easy for the MLBPA. Other labor unions don’t have public faces with celebrity status. In the ongoing Nabisco factory workers strike, nobody knows the names of the workers (whereas everyone is familiar with Oreos). When Frito-Lay workers went on strike last month, none of them had a massive social media following or 24/7 access to reporters hungry for exclusive interviews.

The celebrity nature of MLB players allows them to push their message much more easily. For example, they could have Max Scherzer, a member of the MLBPA Executive Subcommittee, record a 10-second video detailing some of the basic facts of the financial disparities between players and owners, then post that on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. It would have millions of impressions within the hour. If Gerrit Cole, another member of MLBPA leadership, wanted to do an exclusive interview with a major media publication about the state of labor in the league, it would win the day’s headlines. No Nabisco employee can play that card.

Instead, there’s been crickets from the MLBPA leading into critical negotiations. Under the leadership of Executive Director Tony Clark, they’ve neglected to pre-negotiate through public messaging, and in failing to do so, have ceded that battlefield to Rob Manfred and the owners.

It’s a tactical misfire and an enormous missed opportunity as they attempt to improve upon their worst Basic Agreement in decades. It’s still early, but they’ve made the negotiating equivalent of surrendering a three-run home run in the first inning.

Daniel R. Epstein writes for Baseball Prospectus, Off the Bench Baseball, and Bronx Pinstripes. He is Co-Director of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. He is also an elementary special education teacher and President of the Somerset County Education Association.

Cleaning Up

Baseball Has Some Incredibly Bad Ballclubs

By Dan Schlossberg

There are some really bad teams in Major League Baseball. But not all of them are in that category by accident.

Consider the Washington Nationals, who won a world championship via the wild-card route as recently as two years ago but decided to pare their payroll and start over again before the 2021 trade deadline.

In addition to losing star pitcher Stephen Strasburg with a neck issue that needed surgical repair, the Nats dealt Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, and Josh Harrison, among others, while restocking their farm system. At least they kept Juan Soto, one of the game’s most talented and most affordable players.

But that doesn’t mean the team won’t surrender fourth place to the up-and-coming Miami Marlins — who traded away their entire outfield of Adam Duvall, Starling Marte, and Corey Dickerson. Derek Jeter’s crew still has some promising young pitching.

Like the Nationals, the Chicago Cubs shed payroll frantically at deadline time. Three star infielders went: Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees, Javy Baez to the Mets, and Kris Bryant to the Giants. The Wrigleys also sent Joc Pederson to the Braves and Jon Lester to the Cardinals, among other moves. On the surface, the return looks minimal.

Worried about fan reaction, the Colorado Rockies kept slugging shortstop Trevor Story, a certain free agent this fall. They must have remembered the outcry when they sent Nolan Arenado to St. Louis for a left-handed tuna fish sandwich in February.

Woefully bad on the road but good at home, the Rockies would be worst in the National League West if not for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the same division. Until the Baltimore Orioles went through an 18-game losing streak earlier this month, the D’backs had the worst mark in the majors.

But they managed to rebound lately, effectively demolishing Philadelphia’s chances to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Arizona hasn’t been afraid to try new players and have operated their farm system like a yo-yo, especially since slicing payroll at the end of July.

Colorado’s problem is Coors Field. Entering play Friday, they were 43-22 at home and 15-47 on the road. Talk about home field advantage!

As for the Kansas City Royals, their early spurt this year gave fans false hope but baseball insiders weren’t fooled. Kaycee has come back to the pack — way back — and is a good bet to hit bottom in the AL Central, where Minnesota is hoping to avoid a first-to-worst campaign.

It’s hard to believe the Twins finished first two years in a row, though they quickly faded in the playoffs. Minnesota merely got off to a bad start in 2021 and regressed from there. They overpaid badly for veteran infielders Josh Donaldson and Andrelton Simmons and wound up as trade deadline sellers, sending Jose Berrios to Toronto and ancient-but-athletic Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay.

We saved the Orioles for last with good reason: that’s where they belong. Even though they won two straight entering the weekend, Baltimore’s team ERA of 5.82 explains why the team lost so many games in succession — all but the last by multiple runs.

Cedric Mullins, a 2021 All-Star, is a fine all-around player who can’t do it alone.

On Friday morning, Baltimore had a 40-86 record, .317 winning percentage, and 38 1/2 games to make up in the AL East standings. Only Arizona was close in terms of futility, with a 44-85 record, .341 percentage, and 40-game deficit in the NL West.

The only other clubs playing less than .400 ball were the low-budget Pittsburgh Pirates (.347) and Texas Rangers (.346). Both were buried in their respective divisional basements, 31 games behind, but were active sellers at the deadline.

All hope is not lost, however: teams willing to spend during the winter can resurrect their fortunes quickly through free agency. Baseball history is filled with worst-to-first stories.

Case in point: the San Francisco Giants, under .500 during the virus-shortened season of 2020, made carefully-planned moves that paid off handsomely. The Giants started the weekend with the best record in baseball: 83-44 (.654) and a three-game lead over arch-rival Los Angeles in the NL West.

With the possible exception of manager Gabe Kapler, nobody expected that.

HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ writes baseball for multiple outlets, including forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

From Curt Smith’s colorful new paperback Memories From the Microphone:

Harry Caray, who drank hot tea to medicate his throat, once got his tea bag twisted with his headset cord — forcing him to open WGN’s telecast with the tea bag hanging from his ear . . .

Suzyn Waldman, an opera singer in an earlier life, sang The National Anthem at Yankee Stadium several times . . .

Pope John Paul II once changed his schedule to grant an audience to Phil Rizzuto and his wife Cora . . .

Bob Costas says he’s living proof some guys can’t hit their weight — even though he weighed 118 at the time . . .

Long-time Voice of the Orioles Chuck Thompson learned baseball at his grandmother’s boarding house, where Connie Mack was a tenant.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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