Picking Winners and Losers

This weekend brought another round of MLB and MLBPA arguing with each other, accusing each other of being disingenuous or lacking good faith to negotiate. It might have seemed different when Tony Clark told the owners the players would not be offering a rebuttal to the latest proposal and the league should just tell them when and where to report. Essentially, you guys are going to have to force us to play.

Bring on another round of finger pointing and cries of not trying. Accusations of this being the plan all along. Another round of some in the media doing the math to show who was wrong and mentioning the owners closed books prevent them from having the same math driven defense.

Before I get too far into this piece, this is exactly how I thought this would end although I still think the owners will mandate more games than they have to as a final middle finger to the players. The one upmanship will be worth the money to the league.

Everyone needs to pick winners and losers, its what we do now. A bored nation that already started long ago believing social media was real life has seen the new pastime exacerbated by isolation. Even sitting in the fray prompts calls for comment. In this case though, I’d rather focus on who lost because it’s fairly clear, the fans.

Yesterday on Twitter Dejan Kovacevic rightly pointed out that both sides only mention the fans when it’s convenient. He’s absolutely right, because when Pirates players in particular talk about doing right by the fans, the offer only goes so far.

Jameson Taillon of course took offense. And I get that too, of course he “cares” about the fans. I honestly believe he loves us; he loves playing in front of us and truly wants to do well at least in part for us. As the Pirates player rep to the union he also has a unique position to remind us he and other players can really only care to a certain point.

See as fans in Pittsburgh we’re expected to embrace these players and we do, knowing full well someone like Jamo would be long gone already had he not suffered two significant injuries and endured cancer as well. Even with all that injury history, his talent will price him out of Pittsburgh. It’s not that he’ll make more than the Pirates can pay, it’s that he’ll make more than Pittsburgh can risk.

Yeah, Bob Nutting is cheap. Replace him with someone who wants to spend more, and the Pirates can surely keep more players, but Mark Cuban himself will only willingly lose money for so long.

Baseball’s economic system is broken and if it’s truly the intention of both sides to do what’s right by the fans as they both have parroted during these negotiations, that is what needs remedied. Jameson correctly pointed out this negotiation was not supposed to be about the CBA. Again, he’s right, but at some point, saying you care about the fans isn’t enough, because its abundantly clear the league and the players only really care about some fans. The fans in the five or six markets who can afford to pay top dollar for talent.

Am I capable of still enjoying the sport from my Pittsburgh perch, yeah, but it’s fair to say I’m weird? I enjoy the aspect of team building required in a market like this, but even for me, it grows tiresome to watch players come and go. Watching Josh Bell hit homeruns on a pace that compared him to some of the game’s greatest was exciting, but be honest, in the back of your head you knew you were watching him play himself out of town. No fan should have to watch a player like that dominate and immediately picture them in pinstripes or Dodger Blue.

It’s not fair to the players either, imagine building a relationship with a fan base like Andrew McCutchen did, only to have the end in sight long before your career. He put roots in our city and embraced us as we did him. It makes being a fan hard if only because you have no choice but to be jaded when everything is predetermined.

Think about it, Joe Musgrove is a decent pitcher, he has room to get better too. Knowing he’s just good enough to merit wanting, no, expect the Pirates to extend him but not good enough to get big dollars on the open market helps make him easy to embrace. Sure, he’s a good guy and he’s done an excellent job of becoming part of the community too, but rest assured, if he didn’t have one bad game every 4, he’d be among the group may proposed trading before his years of control elapse.

This negotiation was an utter failure and get this, both sides arguably had the same goal, to play baseball this season after tip toeing through the restrictions from COVID-19. Amazingly, the owners cried poor and the players cried foul. See the owners can’t cry poor and refuse to show the evidence, not with any hope of progress anyway. And the players seem hell bent on making sure we all know how unfair it is to expect them to receive less than the prorated level agreed to in March.

Now how can I or any fan expect this same set of people to get together following this event and the 2021 season and successfully negotiate a new CBA? How can we expect that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark sit down and discuss very real changes to the economic system in baseball without six months of contentious tit for tat? Hell, how can we even trust they will argue about the right stuff?

As I sit here right now, I see a work stoppage barreling toward us, one that will make this look like little more than a blip. And here is the kicker, they aren’t even arguing about what will fix the game. This league needs a cap and no, not to hurt the players or make the owners all be equally rich. No, this game needs a cap for the fans. Every market should have a chance to win, right now they don’t. We should be having conversations about how badly some teams have run their organizations instead of constantly tossing in the caveat that the team couldn’t afford to outbid the mighty Yankees or they couldn’t extend that player you like because what if his performance drops in year 4 of his 6 year deal.

What happened this Summer is surely going to cost some fans. Many are disgusted that during a pandemic these two sides couldn’t see a way to at least quietly do this negotiation. At least find a way to not publicly turn this entire event into greed in a time when many of their fans they both verbally care so deeply about had recently lost their jobs, or their business, if not loved ones. We aren’t ignorant to the fact that this hurt the pocketbooks of everyone involved, but let’s face it, nobody involved was checking the government website daily seeing if today was the day they would get the notification they were receiving the $1,200 that was supposed to somehow offset three months of no income. Or to see if they were one of the lucky to receive money from the recovery bill before the money ran out.

Instead, they fed into the narrative that nobody hurts baseball more than baseball itself. Unfortunately, it’s more than a narrative, it happens to be reality. At every turn during this process each side tried to make it an opportunity to gain favor with the onlooking audience, rather than actually try to show they were the slightest bit willing to eat some of the loss. You know, eat some of the loss for the greater good, just like we were asked to do. We were supposed to look at some folks losing their business as the price of saving lives. Sure, it sucked but hey it is absolutely worth saving even one life. The players and owners both lost monies, because they couldn’t see fit to conduct this negotiation in good faith, they’ll lose even more. They’ll lose the increased money that could have come in from extended playoffs because the owners wanted to keep as much of the extra for themselves as possible.

The players were probably right, the owners don’t need them to accept less money to make this season happen, but when you litigate in the public eye right and wrong get skewed by circumstances outside of your control. When the majority of your fanbase remembers firsthand Richard Nixon stepping down it should stand to reason they also remember a time before money was a consideration when building a team. They remember the Pirates of the 70’s and they’re intimately aware that a team like that can never form for them again. Willie Stargell would have been long since moved by the time 1979 came along and at the very least, we’d be sharing his legacy with another team.

Players deserve to make as much as teams will pay, but every team’s fan base deserves to know each team is able to pay in the same ballpark. There was zero chance the Marlins would allow Giancarlo Stanton to play his entire contract with them from the moment he put pen to paper, and while you might respect that they signed him anyway, it severely limited who they could move him to when the club decided to move on. That gigantic number severely limited what they could get in return too. It hurt them so bad they were forced to move a player like Christian Yelich with years of control at a reasonable rate just so they could get to the point they had some serviceable prospects back in the system. The only chance to win is to play the lottery. Mass prospects hope they all come together and create that elusive perfect storm. Sound familiar? It should because it’s exactly what plays out here in Pittsburgh, with the exception of totally burning it down to the ground. Just because a forest fire is ultimately healthy for an ecosystem, setting one intentionally is not a decision many would or should make.

Baseball will be played this season; I’ll find my way back to covering balls and strikes. I’ll get past the feeling that I care more about this league than the commissioner does, but I won’t stop believing it.

Both sides have little more than a year to grow up, as I sit here now, I find it unrealistic to expect these same two leaders are capable of sitting across a table and having a rational conversation let alone steering a multi-billion dollar enterprise back to their stated intention of satisfying the fans. Because when it comes to Major League Baseball, one thing above all has become clear, the customer is not always right, well, the customer outside the four or five places that pay the bills and buy the yachts.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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