At this point, the return of sports by the end of the year is more of a privilege than a right. As America’s major professional sports leagues have started to make real progress toward returns the past few days, some fans harp for sports at any cost, and others would prefer our virus-infested world to slow down a bit more before allowing leagues more testing and protective capabilities than many parts of the country have continued to wait for.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman both realize the importance of getting back at it first, scraping up all the TV money they can and attempting to garner interest in sports that have become more and more on America’s backburner compared to football and basketball. Just imagine baseball returning from a global pandemic to Americans on Independence Day.
The NHL has a 24-team playoff plan ready but still has several key details to sift through, and baseball made itself look silly earlier this week when the sliding scale of salary cuts was proposed by MLB owners to the Player’s Association.
With the owners getting the first public strike in what is sure to be a drawn-out feud, they nearly have checkmated the players before their union could calculate a concise response.
In the proposed salary cut, which would come because of a shortened season (likely 82 games) played without fans, players near the league minimum of about half-a-million dollars would see their salaries cut about in half. For essentially half of a season, that makes sense, especially because it was agreed upon in March to prorate salaries.
But for the case of the league’s best-paid players, that paycut increased dramatically. Gone are the days of a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper making half of their 30-plus million dollar deals, however, as the new proposal would see salaries of the upper echelon slashed by about 80 percent. Trout’s $36 million salary would become about $8 million.
Of course, not all players make the money premier talents make. And it’s not like bringing in a modest $5 million to $10 million for a year will break any of these guys, but that’s not the point. To say any of these billionaire owners is going to struggle to pay prorated salaries is about as ridiculous as Vanilla Ice finding a niche as an HGTV host. (OK, maybe that’s not the best example.)
MLB and the MLBPA both know the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire next year. What the owners are hoping to do with their proposal is secure enough support on a new deal from the journeymen and cup of coffee guys at the expense of the big names. A vote is a vote, no matter who it comes from.
It’s not as though MLB’s current payout structure makes much sense. Thanks to arbitration, players often are under team control until the prime of their careers, if not through those primes. Kris Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP who helped lead the Cubs to their World Series title that year, made $652,000 that season. It was five years ago, and he has still yet to have the freedom to test the market, with the Cubs able to take him to court on a year-by-year basis through 2020 to settle a salary figure.
His 2020 price tag of $18.6 million is just more than half of what some of his elite counterparts make. The arbitration/team control structure of rookie contracts is going to be one of the, if not the biggest, talking points of a collective bargaining agreement that the league already is trying to finesse with their proposal.
I never will understand how blue-collar American culture always sides with billionaire owners instead of millionaire players. As I said, the big names won’t be homeless with the proposed deals, but they certainly are entitled to what’s theirs. Not to mention the fact we still are very much in the middle of a viral pandemic we don’t yet know the longterm effects of, something that adds exponential risk to players.
The owners claim the lack of foot traffic in stadiums, via ticket sales, concessions and other miscellaneous profits made on game day, will cost 40 percent of their gross revenue. But what exactly is that gross revenue? The league says $10 billion, but their books also are airtight and more secretive than a back-alley bar open during a global pandemic, and many projections show that number as large as $40 billion.
Let’s split it in the middle at $25 billion, divided between 30 teams. I’m no math major, hence my career path, but that comes out to more than $833 million per club. I don’t think I need to tell you that no team has a full-time payroll of even half of that. And spare the verbiage about employees aside from players, or even minor leaguers for that matter. Those numbers pale in comparison to player salaries.
Max Scherzer, the ace of the defending world champion Washington Nationals, also holds a finance degree from Missouri and has a big voice in the player’s association. He said Wednesday night the players have no desire to negotiate anything further than March’s agreement to prorate.
That’s the proper stance to take, but the players can’t really win here. Either they give in and allow the game’s biggest stars to see craters taken to their bank accounts, or they fight for their money but at the cost of public image because again, the billionaires are, for some reason, the little guys in this scenario.
The MLBPA is right there with the NBA Player’s Association as the strongest in American sports. But both leagues have seen lockouts come in the past 30 years, twice in the NBA. Another was a possibility for baseball next year. But with the owners’ blatantly offensive proposal to their most famous attractions, that stoppage could come a little sooner than expected.