If you have been paying any attention to baseball recently (and I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t), you’re probably more than ready to stop paying attention. The owners and the players have been squabbling over how to start up the 2020 season, if at all (the latest seems to provide some optimism on that front, but nevertheless). The basic narrative is that the owners are crying poverty because of the COVID shutdown and they want the players to take a pay cut to help cover the losses. The players already did take a pay cut when this whole disaster started back in March, so they don’t feel obligated to take another.
That’s it. That’s the whole thing. It seems like the owners want to play a shorter season (I guess they think they’ll lose less money the less baseball is played), so basically they are making the same crappy offer over and over again knowing the players will reject it so they can waste enough of the summer to make it so they can ONLY play the kind of short season they want. It’s a sharp negotiation tactic to get what they want, for sure, but goddamn it is cynical and poisonous and clearly in bad faith and I can’t imagine the players’ union is looking forward to the more broad negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement coming up over the horizon. It’s bleak, man.
I got to thinking, though: what do we even need the owners for? If you remember your ECON 101 from freshman year (also remember when Deezer snuck that dragon bong into Tully Hall and took a selfie with it and the statue of the school president?? That was so bogus!), you’ll remember there are three basic elements in a capitalist economy - the Capital, the Labor, and the Resources. The Capital is the money and the Labor is the workers and the Resources is the stuff Labor needs to get the job done. The Capital has the money to start the business, and for example, let’s say that business is a baseball team. They front up the cash to gather the necessary resources for the baseball team. What kind of stuff does a baseball business need? They need bats and bases and a stadium and uniforms and all the other stuff and things. And of course, they need workers! They need ballplayers, first and foremost, but also vendors and trainers and accountants and scouts and so on.
So the owner buys up some equipment and pays some players to use that equipment. And if you do it right, people will pay money to come see these players use that equipment. Of course, baseball is more complicated than this, but in naked economic terms that’s the long and short of it.
Take some money, use it to buy up some resources and pay some workers, and if you do it right, you’ll end up with more money than you started. That’s capitalism right there, isn’t it? That’s not a bad thing!
What I find so interesting though is that the owners no longer have a monopoly on Capital. A lot of regular ol’ fans get kinda salty because the players make so much money, right? “Joey Votto makes $20 million so what right does he have to complain??” I think a more important (and waaaaaay more interesting) question than that though is “With all the money unionized ballplayers have made over the years, don’t they have more than enough to start up their own league and just stop dealing with these skinflint owners all together?” Most ballplayers don’t make a ton of money in their careers, for sure, but if you add up the salaries of the 872 players on Opening Day rosters last year, it totals nearly $4 billion. Collectively, dues-paying members of MLBPA have brought home more money than any other group of workers in human history. Probably. I have no way of knowing that. But I’ll make the guess that there is enough money in the banana stand for the union to seriously consider my idea here.
How many of us dream of such an opportunity, right? “If I could just scrape together enough money to start my OWN business, I could be my own boss and I wouldn’t have to deal with the Old Man’s bullshit all the time.” Hell, that’s the American Dream, isn’t it? We have all had this fantasy at one time or another, and it seems that baseball players are in a better position to realize it than any other group of workers on this planet. I wonder if MLBPA has ever actually considered such a thing. The anti-trust exemption that MLB enjoys is the biggest reason this reads like such a crazy radical fantasy right now, but lots of weird radical stuff is happening right now.