The MLB Lockout Is as Much about Power as It Is about Money
And that’s bad for the game.
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Last Sunday morning, Mets pitcher Trevor May tweeted this:
Before he started playing Minecraft, however, May offered a 10-minute tutorial on the state of negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA, which you can watch here. When his baseball career has ended, May has a future in teaching given his exceptional ability to explain abstract concepts. He took all of the lockout’s legal language and contractual terms and described them in ways followers could understand, using familiar players as examples to illustrate his points.
For example, when asked about adding the designated hitter to the NL, May, essentially rolled his eyes, because, really, who cares given everything that’s going on? Then he explained why adopting the DH is good, citing Jacob deGrom as an example, before returning to his real topic, which was the lockout. Following that, he played Minecraft for awhile. Even though not everyone in the chat agreed, May’s perspective was insightful. (Consider me a Trevor May fan.)
I’ve followed the MLB lockout but avoided writing about it because, really, I just don’t know enough to provide insightful commentary. For the real analysis, read those who know this area better than I do. But between the coverage of experts and Trevor May’s Twitch streams and some reading I’m doing for a fall class, I wanted to throw out an idea that I’ve been mulling for a bit: What we’re seeing in baseball now is less about the owners’ greed — though that’s clearly a key factor — than it is about something else.
Marc Normandin, who’s written extensively about labor issues, argues that the lockout is as much about choice as it is about money. He explains:
All of these are about increasing choice. Baseball is already philosophically in conflict with the nation it represents as a pastime, through its institution of a draft; few other occupations prevent a person from deciding who they work for. Imagine earning that college degree and learning that you’ve been assigned to a corporation six states over with a terrible reputation for treating its employees, and yet we all accept that dozens of people are appointed as Colorado Rockies every year. And then being told that if you want to keep using that degree, you’d better learn to like it: quit, and it’s time to go sell cars.
Then, Normandin adds, “The owners, on the other hand, do not want the players to have more choice. Teams are thrilled with the status quo, because they have benefited immensely from it.”
The Rockies “appointment” comment aside, Normandin, I think, gets closer to the real issue because if the players have more autonomy (a word I prefer to “choice”), they have more power. This whole lockout, I would argue, is about the owners wanting absolute control over the game in its entirety. Part of that — okay, a lot of it — is about money; part of that is about very wealthy men enjoying the “sport” (I use the term loosely) of beating everyone because of greed or boredom or hubris. None of this, however, has to do with improving the game of baseball or giving fans a better experience. (Where Dick Monfort and his purple trainers stand in all of this remains unknown.)
In addition to decades of labor conflict between MLB and the MLBPA that saw the owners gaining power at the players’ expense, the owners revealed their intentions last year when they contracted Minor League Baseball under their “One Baseball” plan. (The name itself is a bit of a tell.) They provided noble reasons: “We can pay players more, and they will have better facilities and training conditions.” The fiction of all that generosity disappeared, however, when potential problems emerged with the housing policy, and then in a court filing that revealed MLB’s argument: They should not be forced to pay MiLB players for Spring Training games.
In the meantime, players took to social media to describe just how bad it is, while Brittany Ghiroli added additional information on the plight of Minor League players. Turns out, the owners really weren’t being magnanimous last year when they contracted 43 MiLB teams . . . .
Rather, the current lockout strikes me as something else, and I think Joe Sheehan put it best:
“[K]eep their dominant status.” In other words, it’s about power. Similarly, consider this from Joe Posnanski’s newsletter:
“At some point, surely, they will get the players to cave properly — this is, after all, how they got to be billionaires in the first place.” The owners have more money than they can spend in a lifetime. But the sport of it, the “winning,” the rush of absolute authority, that’s something money cannot buy.
I’ve been thinking about this while re-reading Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, one of the foundational texts on leadership. I’m not here to give you a workshop (though Brown is a charismatic speaker). But she includes a taxonomy of power taken from Just Associates that seems relevant in light of the lockout:
Right now, MLB owners are a “power over” operation; the players wish to move to a slightly more “power with” model. That’s what Trevor May (and other players) are saying. That so many fans are willing to subscribe to the “power over” model I find a bit astonishing. Who trusts the owners to make choices in the best interests of the game given their recent stewardship? (I’ve written before about why I think so many fans tend to side with the owners.)
Trevor May made an important point on Twitch: Fans want entertainment; they feel “entitled” (his word) to entertainment. Players are trying to gain a greater (not even equal) share of the revenue and improve the financial system of the game for themselves and for those who will follow them.
It’s been clear for some time that the owners aren’t interested in resolving anything. They are playing a long game because that’s what power over requires, and if it means taking a financial hit in the short term, they’ll do it (despite claims of poverty). As Hannah Keyser explains, “The problem isn’t that baseball is a business; the problem is that the business of baseball has become increasingly divorced from the on-field product.” The owners are trying to use this CBA to solidify all that power over.
As a fan, I’m on Team Power With.
Down on the Farm
This is an interesting signing. The well traveled Lee is a former Dodgers’ first-round draft pick. Jordan Sheffield 2.0, perhaps?
Brenton Doyle has been recognized by MLB Pipeline as the Rockies’ “Most Athletic Prospect.”
Pitcher Jose Flores has received a 60-game suspension after testing positive for Stanozolol.
Terrin Vavra is making his way through the Orioles system and may make his MLB debut in 2022.
Mike Tauchman is getting ready for the KBO:
What I’m Reading, Watching, & Listening To
Justin Choi’s “An Unexpected Rockies Statistic” (FanGraphs) — Choi discovers yet another way in which the Rockies are weird.
Patrick Saunders’ “Meet Emily Glass, the Rockies’ First Female Scout: ‘It Was a Slam Dunk to Hire Her” (Denver Post) — This remains one of my favorite storylines from the offseason.
Drew Goodman’s “Grading the Colorado Rockies’ 2022 Starting Pitchers” (Mile High Sports) — If there’s a reason for hope in 2022, this is it.
Patrick Lyons’ “A Decade of Dependability: Charlie Blackmon Enters Rarified Air in 12th Season with Rockies” (DNVR Rockies) — It’s easy to forget with the beard and the mullet and the “TONIGHT!” that Charlie Blackmon has had a pretty amazing career in Denver. Lyons explains why.
It’s good to see Kyle Freeland throwing again.
Hopefully, we can soon see him throwing at Spring Training. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic.
Thanks for reading —