The Commissioners Office is running cover for ownership ahead of this offseason's CBA talks.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and his office have, of their own volition, been waging wars against problems that don’t exist in the game, or just don’t matter. The debate over pace of play, the size of minor league systems, and now the "sticky stuff" that the commissioners office has manufactured are all paper tigers running cover for the league and its owners.
Pace of play? How often have any of us gone to a baseball game with our friends and family and thought "Wow, I wish this would end faster." after forking out upwards of $200 on average to even get a family of four through the gate.
Sticky stuff? Wiping on some residual hair gel or sunscreen to get a better grip on the ball has been a part of the game forever. It's something that even high school pitchers use to grip pitches better and something that most hitters in the batter's box are happy to accept as collateral in return for, well, the guy throwing a 90+ MPH projectile at them having a better idea of where that projectile is going.
Too many minor league teams? For many fans in smaller towns and markets, these affiliate teams are their only tangible connection to the game. Even in suburbs of cities like New York and Los Angeles, local fans unable to traverse urban traffic or pay premium prices to enter Dodger or Yankee Stadiums turned to teams like the Staten Island Yankees or the Lancaster JetHawks to experience the waning magic of a summer evening at the ballpark.
Major League Baseball has a ton of PR issues that have fans concerned, but none of them are any of the above. How about a domestic abuse issue that has seen numerous high profile players suspended briefly, only to return quickly with the expectation that teammates and fans should look the other way and sweep these issues under the rug? In the past 5 years, relatively large names in the MLB player community have served domestic violence suspensions: Aroldis Chapman, Jose Reyes, Jeurys Famila, Derek Norris, Steven Wright, Roberto Osuna, Addison Russell, Julio Urias, Domingo German, and Sam Dyson are all among prominent players who have served such suspensions in the last five-six years alone. Yet it seems that a new name is added to this list at least once every year.
This week, White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon echoed a sentiment felt by many fans: how can MLB have the audacity to suspend players for using "sticky stuff" when they outright refused to punish Houston Astros players for a cheating scandal that unfairly netted the team a 2017 World Series championship? The Astros detailed sign-stealing scheme that lasted at least several seasons, and may be possibly continuing in the present according to new allegations is certainly much more indicative of players stealing unfair and undue advantage than a pitcher seeking better ways to grip baseballs. Not only did players like Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve cheat and go unpunished, but those players had the audacity to complain to the league that they were being unfairly heckled now that they are once again playing in front of stadiums full of opposing fans for the first time since details about their misdeeds were made public.
And speaking of the gutted Minor League Baseball system, a fresh story about the ill treatment of minor league players broke this week as Orioles minor leaguers are reportedly resorting to sleeping in their cars on road trips. The Orioles will reportedly now require players to fund their own motel stays: an expense that would deplete 80% of those players' paychecks every week. Meanwhile, Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles organization maintains a net worth of over $2 billion, while his Orioles have lost about 400 games and counting over the last five seasons.
Angelos is among a class of owners that have worked league-wide over the last decade to consolidate their own power behind Manfred, who was their legal representative in the 1994 strike. In the past few years, there have been at least rumors that ownership is conspiring to neuter the earning power of players in free agency. The MLB arbitration system itself stifles player earning power and severely limits player’s own agency over their own careers, allowing ownership to easily manipulate service time and pay players far below their value for much longer than what is reasonable. Revenue sharing and draft compensation encourage mediocrity as teams have little financial incentive to win games, and owners have a de facto salary cap to hide behind vis-a-vis the luxury tax that has even the mighty New York Yankees and the Steinbrenner dynasty unwilling to sufficiently invest in player payroll.
Baseball is in a bad state, and there will almost certainly be a labor dispute after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of this season. The fact is, however, that Manfred and the league are working overtime to steer the public discourse away from issues that might challenge the power of ownership ahead of what is likely to be a tense, brutal offseason for baseball fans.