Red Sox and baseball continue in a lockout holding pattern
The Boston Red Sox and their twenty-nine other accomplices that comprise Major League Baseball are fully invested in a lockout of players. A lockout is a negotiation tool, but the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) – a rather interesting trade union – are not toothless since they are the necessary labor.
The two parties are in a stage of simply delaying the negotiation process. According to the latest information drop, the core issues will not be discussed until January.
Generating a modicum of sympathy for either party is a Herculean task. A spat between millionaires and billionaires while the hoi polloi are in the throes of crushing inflation. As a former union member, I embrace the concept of negotiations, collective bargaining, and achieving a mutually acceptable conclusion. In this instance, I distance myself from the warring parties.
The union is far removed from – for example – the Hotels Employers and Restaurant Employees Union. Conversely, MLB owners are not concerned with the minutia of supply chains, material costs, and the most important factor of competition. A “Pox on both their houses.” is becoming quite apparent as this issue lingers.
The Japanese have Seppuku or ritual suicide, and is that a solution? That appears the direction both parties intend to follow without the accompanying blood and gore. In the Cold War, the term MAD became synonymous with the ability of Russia and the United States in a nuclear exchange to have Mutually Assured Destruction.
The 1994 strike brought MLB to a grinding halt in early August, and a simmering labor-management dispute materialized with a strike. A strike at a most inopportune time when the intense season captures public, and media attention as teams vie for positioning. The resulting contentious labor conflict killed the playoffs, the World Series, and Tony Gwynn’s attempt at hitting .400.
The strike simmered throughout the offseason and was finally resolved. The ultimate cost was a drop of twenty million in attendance. The eventual recovery was accomplished by Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGwire.
The 1994 situation was a loggerhead one with the issue being (shockingly) money. The situation in 2022 is distinctly different from the 1994 dispute as compensation has increased dramatically, both sides have limited their quarreling, and franchise values have soared into the billions. A situation that should be cleared with expediency, but this being baseball I am prone to expect a lengthy strike.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) will be eventually formalized. The recently expired document ran 274 pages, so that is an inviting target for the legion of lawyers placing the final touches on the sacred scroll. To put this in context, the Constitution of the United States contains 4,543 words.
Just what will happen?
I had mentioned Seppuku, and a prolonged failure to start the season will have long-term consequences. Spring Training generates the excitement of a new season, but a delay will be a wedge for fans – especially the casual fan – to look elsewhere to spend their entertainment dollar. The longer the warring factions continue, the greater the disengagement that could filter to the baseball loyalists.
Imaging is an essential factor, and baseball is suffering an identity crisis. Waining interest in youth leagues, tediously long games, abysmal television ratings, and being supplanted as America’s pastime by the National Football League. A strike will do nothing to stop a slide into eventual irrelevancy.
A prolonged and acrimonious labor dispute could take a decade to repair the joint damage inflicted. Baseball has survived a myriad of destructive behaviors for gambling, strikes, outrageous personal behaviors, and performance drugs.
What if a settlement is reached?
The negotiations will be like any other union-management negotiation and target benefits, salary, employment conditions, and even rectifying a mistake made by the union years ago. Once a settlement is concluded, the price tag will drift down the funnel to the fans. Expect ticket prices, merchandising, and stadium prices to absorb the new labor costs.
Baseball has a luxury tax that penalizes teams for excessive spending, but will the new agreement implement significant changes? The National Football League places a basement figure that forces teams to spend, and MLB does not do this, and some teams can enjoy a subsidy with no punitive consequences. Will the parties achieve an agreement on a ceiling and a basement?
MLB has proposed a basement of $100 million and a ceiling of $180 million. A preliminary offer to tinker with the luxury tax and a template giving direction to the negotiating teams. The measure is an attempt at equalization and a worthy item for both parties to consider. I fully embrace the concept of a basement for team payrolls.
As a Red Sox, fan financial issues become paramount, and Red Sox Nation has two divergent positions on payroll and the accompanying luxury tax. The first is to retain players and fill needs that the farm system cannot address. Admittedly that has been a cornerstone for four World Series flags this century. The approach has consequences of a depleted farm system, dead money, and burdensome contracts.
The regime of Chaim Bloom is in full swing and the second approach is one of more judicious use of corporate dollars. Red Sox may have positioned themselves somewhat favorably if the luxury tax is lowered. If the current administration keeps on this linear path, I will picture Boston not as Tampa Bay but as the Cardinals.