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March 28, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Truth

by Joe Sheehan

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Today was supposed to be my AL preview, with the NL following tomorrow. I'm pushing those back a day each to Friday and Saturday because I want to run through the used-car salesman's "Town Hall Meeting" from Tuesday afternoon.

Well, not just that. First, let's deal with the announcement by Bud Selig that the owners will not lock the players out through the World Series. This was a shameless, transparent attempt to curry favor with fans and media, an announcement with absolutely no meaning whatsoever. It's like me saying I'm not going to watch any women's basketball, and expecting that to be treated like a sacrifice.

The effective time period for a lockout is the offseason; note that the two most successful lockouts in recent years (the NBA in 1998, the NHL in 1993) have begun in their league's offseasons. MLB's only lockout attempt came in the spring of 1990. Selig essentially announced that the owners won't pursue a stupid, pointless, self-immolating strategy.

Well, this particular one, anyway.

On the other hand, the only time the players have any leverage is during the season, and Don Fehr was right to point out that the MLBPA will not concede their right to strike, and that the announcement by the owners merely set the stage for them to declare an impasse and impose new work rules come November.

If you think this looks a lot like 1994, you're right. Ownership's refusal to negotiate in good faith, with the intent of implementing a new system, forcing the players to use the only weapon at their disposal: walking. A good-faith pledge by the owners would be to assure no lockout from November through April, but of course, there's no good faith here--just a PR gambit.

I know many of you recognize this. What's important is that you tell friends, write e-mails to your local paper, and generally get the message out that Selig's announcement is just pandering to the fans and an attempt to cast the MLBPA in a bad light. The last thing Selig wants is an educated fan base taking their cue not from him, or from friendlies in the press, but from informed fans examining the issues with a critical eye.

Knowledge is king. Share yours today.

OK, on to the MLB.com chat. In an effort to get this column out today I'm just going to grab the highlights. Much of the ground has been covered by Doug Pappas in his "The Numbers" series, as well as by me in earlier columns.

From the opening statement:

 

  • "Our fans have demonstrated great support for such recent innovations as the interleague play, three division formats in each league, the unbalanced schedule, the Wild Card, and the expanded playoffs format."

    I have an e-mail folder called "Reader Mail." In that folder are 4,187 e-mails, going back to last May. None of them praise any of the innovations Selig is extolling. No baseball fan I know personally has ever said to me, "the 1994 changes have been really great!" Where the hell are all these people the MLB insists love the new format?

     

  • "I have often stated that at the start of the season, the fans of each team should have hope and faith that his and/or her team can compete for the championship."

    This is nonsense. In any given season, there are going to be teams who have no chance, be it because they're rebuilding or because the competition in their division is too stiff. Selig wants MLB to be like the NFL, where the standings are just this side of random.

    That said, I'll again point out that more teams have better chances to succeed today than they did for much of the 20th century. No team today is as pathetic, or can be as pathetic, as teams like the Senators, Browns, A's, and Phillies were in the middle of the 1900s. Of course, that was when players were serfs and no one had to use "competitive balance" as a smokescreen for lowering labor costs.

     

  • Selig goes on to quote the Blue Ribbon Report. Hasn't this thing lost its credibility by now? Half the guys on the committee were owners or wanna-be owners, there was essentially no input from labor, and the thing is loaded down with meaningless statistics. Postseason wins? Please.

     

  • "Many of you have said, 'If you want to share more revenue, then why don't you just do it.' I wish it were that easy, as I already have the full support of the clubs to do so. However, the union tells us revenue sharing is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining and must be agreed to by their members. The union has agreed that more revenue sharing is needed, but the level of revenue sharing it has offered is insufficient."

    Says him. The MLBPA is also proposing that shared revenue be distributed in a way that actually achieves something, rather than merely ratchets down salaries. The MLB proposal helps--wait for it--Milwaukee a lot more than it does Montreal. Also, MLB has always tied increased revenue sharing to an external salary restraint, which is the real stumbling block to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The day they don't do that is the day they'll look sincere about revenue sharing.

    By the way, it's not the union that tells MLB that revenue sharing is subject to collective bargaining. It's labor law. You know, that stuff that MLB loves to violate?

     

  • "None of the ideas I am promoting is new or untried. In fact, both concepts were present in the last collective bargaining agreement, only at levels lower than were necessary."

    When is baseball going to acknowledge that it was the revenue sharing system implemented in the last CBA that killed the Expos and threatens the Twins? MLB's own plan incentivized payroll slashing and penalized attempts to invest in the product and improve performance. That led directly to four-digit crowds in Montreal.

    Revenue sharing has had no positive effects, and one clear negative one, so MLB wants to increase it. Yeah, that's a plan.

     

  • "[fans] have seen how both revenue sharing and salary restraint have worked in other professional sports."

    Here's the core issue. Bud Selig wants the systems that are in place in the NFL and NBA. Those systems were implemented not through negotiation, but in labor wars won decisively by management after work stoppages. He has no interest in an honest give-and-take between ownership and the MLBPA. He wants an economic system that guarantees profits for all owners regardless of level of investment or level of competence, and he wants it over the dead bodies of the players.

    You're not going to get that with the MLBPA. You have to negotiate, you have to have realistic expectations, and you have to stop demanding from a strong union what the players' associations in other sports gave up as they were carrying their beaten asses back to their respective stadia.

    Just as he did in 1994, Bud Selig is actively promoting a strategy that can only lead to war. If there is a work stoppage in 2002, there is one man to blame: Bud Selig.

On to the chat session itself:

 

  • "And if you're asking about future revenues, that's when we took we liberalized how we determined the asset value. Under the old rule it was worth $70 million. After a lot of thought and a lot of practical adjustments we went two times gross revenue, which accounts then for all future revenues which takes into account much of a franchise ability to generate revenue. So if anything we could question on why did we liberalize the asset calculation but I'm glad we did. On the contrary it doesn't penalize teams who have foresight to lock up players long term. However, when you have teams that have a lot of deferred compensation, that is a liability any way that you look at it. You have to look at how we liberalize the asset values to be really fair about this situation. And I think you'll find out then that there is no club really should have any kind of complaint."

    One of the problems I'm beginning to see is that I don't believe Bud Selig understands the underlying economics. I don't think he grasps what happened in Montreal. I don't think he understands the impact of revenue sharing on the salary structure. I don't think he understands the principles the way people like Doug Pappas and David Grabiner do.

    This paragraph reinforces my doubts. It is, quite frankly, borderline unintelligible, and seems to say that two seasons of revenue accounts for all future revenues, and that while deferred compensation is debt, future contract obligations aren't.

    I truly do not understand this answer, and while I'm willing to accept that I may be missing something, the fact that Selig cannot communicate the impact of his ideas--something that, for example, Marvin Miller and Don Fehr did and do very well--bothers the hell out of me.

     

  • "Will my Brewers ever see .500 again?"

    "That's a good question, Joshua. I think the answer is absolutely yes. I know it's been a tough struggle. It's been a tough struggle in Pittsburgh, in Detroit, in Kansas City, and in Minnesota until last year. I think the Brewers have a lot of good young players, but we need to change the system, Joshua, there's no question about that. But stay with them, Joshua, they're going to be OK."

    It's the system that forced the Brewers to draft poorly for a decade, and do things like sign Jose Hernandez and Jeffrey Hammonds and Eric Young. Good to know.

    Who, by the way, are the Brewers' good young players?

     

  • "We now will send this year, the top six to the bottom six, about a $166 million. It isn't enough. We need to do more. We want to do more."

    Isn't that a lot of money? Is it actually possible that transferring $166 million from the top of the revenue list to the bottom is insufficient? This claim seems incongruous, although I confess that I'm not running at this one with a lot of ammunition.

     

  • [speaking about the Indians] "Jacobs Field, of course, changed that franchise around."

    Again, I ask the question whether the commissioner of baseball has any idea what he's talking about. Jacobs Field was a factor in the Indians' run, but the real work was done years before, by John Hart, in drafting and trading for and signing to below-market contracts the core of what became a great team.

    The players and the management turned the Indians around, not the ballpark.

     

  • "The A's and Giants, we have two teams there trying to divide up the market which has always been difficult. I don't know that you would consider either one of those clubs a small market club."

    I knew this crap would begin. Now that the A's have had three winning seasons in a row, Selig is trying to position them as not a small-market club. The same way that the Indians are being recast as a "middle-market" club. These labels are a joke, and MLB should be embarrassed by this kind of weaseling.

Other notes:

 

  • If Selig is going to call it a competitive-balance tax, I'm going to insist on calling it what it is: an investment tax. In the same way that a "salary cap" is actually a payroll, or labor-cost, cap, Selig's terminology hides the fact that what he's doing is penalizing teams for investing in their product.

    Labor-cost cap. Investment tax. Both sides can play word games. I encourage everyone to use these terms in discussing these issues, because they’re more accurate.

     

  • I am actually going to say one positive thing about this. Even though I think his motives were questionable, and even though the format allowed him to be selective in what he answered, I think the precedent set here--a commissioner taking questions from fans--is a good one. Hopefully, when Selig is gone and his successor is in place, that successor will do the same.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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