July 9, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
A Sense of Entitlement
Major League Baseball is a product. It's packaged and sold in a number of ways. You can buy tickets and attend the games in person. You can sit through commercials and listen to the games on radio. You can either pay for a broad selection of games on TV, or settle for a more limited set of games available for the cost of a little of your time. There are also affiliated products, like caps, jerseys, programs, concessions, parking, etc.
Over the past couple of decades, there have been times when the core products have not been available due to a labor dispute. Either the players have struck, or the owners have locked them out, in an attempt to create leverage in the collective bargaining process. This doesn't happen only in baseball. It happens in almost every business with an organized labor force. It's elemental to every industry where management and organized labor have to negotiate with each other.
So how come every time it looks like there might be some sort of a labor stoppage in baseball, some group of people feels the need to put together some sort of "fan organization" with a bad acronym, with no apparent purpose except to whine? Each time around, the script's pretty much the same, peppered with phrases like:
"No one's looking out for the fan's interests!"
The rhetoric is usually accompanied by no plan whatsoever except to grab whatever free media is having a slow news day. If a group does put forward a plan to "save baseball", it's usually some half-baked melange of proposals that effectively requires one side or the other to unilaterally capitulate and abandon the core principles they're fighting over.
This time is no different. For the last week or so, my mailbox has received a constant flow of amateurish press releases from a group of people going down this well-traveled road. They obviously mean well, and clearly love baseball, or else they wouldn't be dedicating this kind of time to their project. But despite what they think are good intentions, this is not only ineffective and downright counterproductive, but unbelievably presumptuous and pathetic.
The next time GM or Ford has a possible work stoppage with their line workers, do any of us have a right to be at the collective bargaining table as self-appointed representatives of car drivers? What the hell purpose would it serve? "We're tired of paying so much for cars, and the threat of stopped production has us very antsy, so we've put together a solution to resolve this dispute. It limits your profits and salaries for our benefit, but you should implement it anyway."
This boycott, like the others that have come before it, is arrogant, whiny, and ill-conceived. It's a tremendous conceit to suggest that anyone other than the players or owners deserves a seat at the collective bargaining table. The public subsidy of MLB isn't that large, and public subsidies of literally thousands of businesses around the nation don't entitle potential customers to play amateur facilitator because their feelings are hurt.
Baseball fans don't like to talk about it, and the majority would deny it if asked straight out, but we're jealous of both the players and owners. Every time a major league contract is signed, the financial details are included. Why? It's none of your business how much money I make from Baseball Prospectus, and it's none of my business how much money you make at your job. Yet, at every opportunity, baseball player salaries are thrown out there, usually accompanied by some sort of moralistic sigh. These guys can deny it if they want, but this is an effort fueled at its core by jealousy. Barry Bonds had it right last week when he said "I don't begrudge you your salary, so don't begrudge me the right to make mine." I'll second that thought, and extend the concept to George Steinbrenner.
You want to boycott the games? Go nuts. But perhaps you should consider spending your outrage on something more meaningful than a relatively small entertainment industry. Personally, I'll just note the prominent presentation of the "Donate" option on the site that's driving the boycott effort. I find it pretty interesting that the people who want me to withhold my cash from one of my favorite forms of entertainment want me to instead pass it on to them. Now who's nuts?