The MLB Lockout: Stop Giving the Players a Pass

There’s a quote attributed to Charles Baudelaire, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Well, the MLB Players Association may have once again managed to achieve its equal by convincing the virtual unanimity of baseball fans that the owners are the ones solely to blame for the lockout. Then again, your average MLB fan is an easy mark. We do, after all, cheer for the players to perform on the field, not the owners. And when we don’t get that, it must be the evil owners’ collective fault, right?

Now, before you begin to interpret this as some kind of sympathy piece on the plight of the MLB franchise owner, let’s clear a couple of things up. The owners are in fact a greedy bunch. They absolutely want to pay players as little as they have to. But what business owner doesn’t? Why do you think the guy who owns the local pub pays his service staff minimum wage or close to it? Because people will work for it. Same thing with the local MacDonald’s franchise owner. Same thing with the hardware store. Same thing with the insurance company.

Let me tell you a story for context. Years ago, I was working for an insurance company, making about 60 grand a year. I wasn’t sad about it. It was a decent job, I had a decent boss, great friends at the office, a short commute, most things you could want in a job when you’re fairly young with not a ton of responsibilities. Then my decent boss left for greener pastures. Then the creative director of my department did too. I inherited the entirety of his role, but with no bump in title or pay. Ok, I thought. I will prove that I can handle this, and THEN the bumps will come. So I worked my ass off. Then our coordinator, the guy whose sole responsibility was to ship stuff where it needed to go, made so many mistakes that he was eventually stripped of all responsibility. Why wasn’t he fired? Well, he was the NEW boss’s first hire, and the new boss was terrified of looking bad on that, and just about everything else. (He was otherwise a decent fella who treated those who reported to him nicely. And sadly, raises were not approved by him – those went through his boss.) Guess who had to take that job over, while the coordinator’s role was reduced to watching old boxing matches on YouTube, and occasionally representing the department at an event (a role in which, to be fair, he was excellent). You guessed it. Suddenly, my job I enjoyed was wearing on me. The overtime was oppressive, and I admittedly didn’t handle the stress as well as I could have. I once again asked for a raise, and was told I needed to improve certain areas of my performance to justify it, despite consistently excellent annual reviews. Fast forward a couple of years, my wife and I are expecting our first child. I once again ask for a raise, and am told that my request would be reviewed at my annual review. My child is soon born, and my insurance premiums go up by $400 a month. I cut back my overtime so I can actually be a father to my newborn. They hire a new person that reports to me, but gets paid $4500 a year more than I do. At review, it’s held against me that I cut back my overtime. “Questionable dedication to the company” were the words used. Did I mention the creative director that left a while back had a salary of $115,000 a year? So, way too late, which is absolutely my fault, I decide to leave. I will find a new job so my growing family can maintain a roof over its head. So I did. Within a few months, I got an offer for a position with a new company paying approximately $17,000 a year more, with superior insurance benefits for $450 a month LESS than at the current place. For the final time, I went directly to the VP who approved the raises for my department and told him the exact number I needed to earn. He laughed at me and said, “We value your contributions but you have no leverage to ask for that kind of raise. You have a family to support and you have a stable job here. If you want to keep it stable, you should probably be more self-aware of your situation.” So I handed him my letter of resignation. I anticipated his response, maybe not verbatim, but the end result anyway. If I was wrong and he agreed with me, I could always shred it and no one would know. But that isn’t what happened.

Why did I tell you that story? Because nearly everyone has one like it. Nearly everyone has worked somewhere where they are underpaid, taken for granted, underappreciated, pick your adjective and change some of the details, and that is likely YOUR story. Maybe you handled it better than I did. Maybe you realized your situation more quickly than I did. But the majority of people just take it (like I did for far too long) because they fear change, value stability, whatever you want to call it. And these same people are up in arms that owners don’t want to pay guys who make ten million a year, twice that. They are up in arms that the league minimum is hovering around half a million, instead of twice that. Because how is a rookie in his early 20s supposed to survive on only half a million? How can any player in the entirety of baseball claim they are underpaid with a straight face? Yes, I know, some guy who outperforms the average player but earns less than him can technically, and by definition, argue it. But let’s get real.

I digress. Let’s take a look at why virtually all the arguments in favor of the players with this lockout are trash.

There are no small market teams. ALL owners are BILLIONAIRES!

False and true. There are small market teams. It’s an easy calculation of revenue. What do the Kansas City Royals get in revenue annually compared to the Yankees or Dodgers? Fan attendance? Jersey sales? I mean, I could do the research and get you the exact dollar amount, but why bother? We both know the result of that search, Mr. or Mrs. Reader. But are all owners billionaires? Yeah, maybe in terms of net worth. But most owners of MLB franchises are not just owners of those franchises. Their MLB franchise is ONE of their assets – one of their business ventures. And they are under no obligation to run it at a loss. Rich people got rich by running businesses at a profit, and investing wisely. The notion that they should abandon those business principles because some teams are perennially shitty is absurd. They are in this to make money. Just like the shitty owners at your job that could pay you $5 an hour more and not even notice it on their bottom lines, but don’t. Why? Because they don’t have to.

Minor league conditions for players are unlivable!

YES! Great energy there. And the majority of MLB owners really are dog shit for how they approach minor league compensation, housing, nutrition, etc. The problem is, you don’t care about that. There are organizations out there like Advocates for Minor Leaguers fighting the good fight to improve lives for those players. But when you suddenly posit this as an argument against owners, it’s disingenuous because all you care about is your MLB team’s owner ponying up enough money to compete for elite free agents. So kindly save the virtue signaling.

I don’t have a pithy quote for this but this is for the advanced statistics and metrics nerds.

Full disclosure, to a degree I am one of these nerds. But without fail, the loudest advocates for the players are the Moneyball believers that will denigrate your right to fandom if you don’t adopt WRC+ as the be all end all of metrics when it comes to an offensive player’s value. But when suddenly that metric and other ones like it for pitching and what have you become the justification for teams paying rookies the league minimum instead of mediocre veterans tens of millions, where does that leave you? On an island. Without an argument that holds water. Can’t have it both ways, pal.

Owners exploit guys like Wander Franco with below market deals when they could be worth so much more!

Sure. Exploiting them with 200 million dollar contracts. A kid who came from nothing will now, no matter what happens, will be able to provide for his great great great grandchildren is being exploited. No matter if he suffers a horrible career ending injury, he will have 200 million dollars to live off of. Sure, you can make an argument that the Braves got a ridiculous bargain with Ozzie Albies and his 35 million dollar contract. I agree wholeheartedly. But he chose guaranteed generational financial security in the immediate with the potential for hundreds of millions more in free agency while still youngish over gambling on…what? Staying healthy so he could get hundreds of millions a few years earlier? People making $12 an hour at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts are making these arguments. Hashtag perspective and shit.

I pay $16 for a beer at the stadium! So my owner can pinch pennies!?

No, asshole. You pay $16 for a beer because Max Scherzer can make $45 million a year. And look, I don’t begrudge Scherzer that money. This is baseball economy, he’s in the top three pitchers of this generation, and he earned it. But let’s be honest. Does Scherzer NEED that money? Is he hurting? What if, hypothetically, there was a salary cap in place, and the max he could make was $20 million a year? The vast majority of Major League Baseball players will serve the highest bidder, regardless. They’ll tell you tales about wanting to win and this and that. But let’s be honest. There are maybe 8 teams that have a chance to win the World Series in 2022. All of them would gladly pay Scherzer $20 million to pitch for them. The Mets have zero chance of winning the World Series. They will struggle to make the playoffs to begin with. Scherzer is a man who is trying to maximize his own personal value. Just like the owners…

I just care about baseball…

No you don’t. Shut the fuck up. You are after Twitter clout, because that one woman you have your creepy eye on will finally give you attention if you virtue signal enough. If what you wanted was baseball on the field, you would advocate for adults on both sides (who make more money in one year than you will in your lifetime) to meet in good faith and reach amicable conclusions.

Hey man, underpaid is underpaid!

No. It isn’t. Teachers are underpaid. Firefighters are underpaid. Grown men playing a child’s game that will make them millionaires, in many cases hundreds of times over, are not underpaid. They work part time. Six months out of the year. And before you hit me with the, “oh it’s a year round thing, they have to stay in shape!” Seriously, shut the fuck up. We ALL need to stay healthy and in shape if we don’t want to die early. It’s working out for an hour a day, a few days a week.

In conclusion…

The owners are greedy bastards. The players are greedy bastards. You make five figures. You’re arguing in favor of making your own parking, ticket, beer and memorabilia prices go up. For the love of God… just stop.

And hey, now that I’ve pissed you off, follow me on Twitter at @thestainsports. I love you! Thanks for reading.

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