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“A Letter From Baseball Fans” for Rob Manfred

At 12:03 AM on December 2nd, 2021, The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball published a letter from Robert D. Manfred Jr. on MLB.com, subject titled “A letter to baseball fans”.

Consider this my “A letter to the owners”:

 
Read a letter from the Commissioner: https://t.co/P4gRGSlfsu pic.twitter.com/zI40uGLTni — MLB (@MLB) December 2, 2021

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Preface to This Post:

Read the letter from Robert D. Manfred Jr. before reading our post today. I want no bias going into this critique and would implore our readers to read the full letter before getting my opinions on the matter.

 

Paragraphs One and Two:

To our Fans: I first want to thank you for your continued support of the great game of baseball. This past season, we were reminded of how the national pastime can bring us together and restore our hope despite the difficult challenges of a global pandemic. As we began to emerge from one of the darkest periods in our history, our ballparks were filled with fans; the games were filled with excitement; and millions of families felt the joy of watching baseball together. That is why I am so disappointed about the situation in which our game finds itself today. Despite the league’s best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labor peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired. Therefore, we have been forced to commence a lockout of Major League players, effective at 12:01am ET on December 2.

To the 30 MLB Owners and Robert D. Manfred Jr.:

I appreciate your expression of gratitude for my being a fan of your professionalized version of the sport of baseball. I appreciate the product you provide for me and millions of people, families, and other fans. During the COVID-19 pandemic, baseball was the first sport to fully return to action and provided a source of new entertainment when re-runs were getting old. I want to extend a thank you to you all for that.

However, that is why I am also disappointed about the situation that you have forced upon us fans. To say the league put their “best efforts” to avoid a lockout is an incredulous lie. This is clearly indicated by the holding just a 7-minute meeting with the MLBPA on December 1st, 2021 and the immediate ceasing of all negotiations at around 3:00 PM with approximately 9 hours left to negotiate and avoid a lockout. Additionally, this decision was not forced upon the owners. You are the ones who decided to institute a lockout and alternatives to a lockout were plausible, as previously done between the 1994 and 1995 seasons (albeit though not solved before it disrupted regular season play).

 

Paragraphs Three and Four:

I want to explain to you how we got here and why we have to take this action today. Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season. We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions. When we began negotiations over a new agreement, the Players Association already had a contract that they wouldn’t trade for any other in sports. Baseball’s players have no salary cap and are not subjected to a maximum length or dollar amount on contracts. In fact, only MLB has guaranteed contracts that run 10 or more years, and in excess of $300 million. We have not proposed anything that would change these fundamentals. While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is “broken” – in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x. By the end of the offseason, Clubs will have committed more money to players than in any offseason in MLB history.

As you are attempting to hide in your statement, you did not enter this lockout in an attempt to protect the 2022 season. You decided to lockout to protect your bottom lines through a lockout to force the MLBPA to accept worse terms. This was not a defensive lockout to protect the integrity of the game in an effort to help teams stay competitive. It has been clear in the recent years that while some owners are willing to spend to field good baseball teams, other owners are more than happy to collect their portion of the revenue sharing; many times collecting more money then they are spending on their players. Without sharing your ideas- as the MLBPA has done, to some extent-, we must assume one of two things. Either you want things to stay the same- of which has not proven to lead to competitive teams-, or your proposed changes are beyond reasonable.

It also does not matter what previous agreement the MLB and MLBPA had if there are ongoing negotiations. The MLBPA had fought extremely hard to get themselves what may have been the best athlete-to-owner agreement in the major professional sports leagues in the USA. In this statement you are admitting to the power the MLBPA has in getting themselves into such a favorable position for their players. To also promote the owners for spending $300M+ on players is a truth, but also disingenuous. Only 9 players in the MLB have those contracts, or just 1.2% of active players (given 780 players in the MLB). Only 15 players are on 10+ year contracts, or just 2% of active players. Additionally, the reason that November, 2022 set records for free agency in the MLB was because of the looming lockout, requiring players to desire to act in more desperation to guarantee a deal. This level of activity is not likely to continue unless signing deadlines are put into effect- of which the MLBPA would never agree to. You also undermine your reason for locking out again by highlighting just how much the owners can spend on free agency.

 

Paragraphs Five and Six:

We worked hard to find compromise while making the system even better for players, by addressing concerns raised by the Players Association. We offered to establish a minimum payroll for all clubs to meet for the first time in baseball history; to allow the majority of players to reach free agency earlier through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of service time manipulation; and to increase compensation for all young players, including increases in the minimum salary. When negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to create some by offering to accept the universal Designated Hitter, to create a new draft system using a lottery similar to other leagues, and to increase the Competitive Balance Tax threshold that affects only a small number of teams. We have had challenges before with respect to making labor agreements and have overcome those challenges every single time during my tenure. Regrettably, it appears the Players Association came to the bargaining table with a strategy of confrontation over compromise. They never wavered from collectively the most extreme set of proposals in their history, including significant cuts to the revenue-sharing system, a weakening of the competitive balance tax, and shortening the period of time that players play for their teams. All of these changes would make our game less competitive, not more.

You write this as an attempt to highlight your efforts to portray the MLBPA as the enemy in these negotiations, however these proposed changes are all massive disadvantages to the players. A minimum payroll was also originally combined without raising the maximum payroll (as evidenced by the players asking for a $240M luxury tax). The change to free agency with an age-based approach was proposed by the owners to be set to 29.5 years old, giving the owners more years of control, for cheaper, over younger talent and a guaranteed reduction in contract sizes for free agents. Earlier in the letter, the MLB owners bragged about spending $300M+ and giving 10-year contracts. Of the players to sign either of those types of deals, only one was 30 or older when they signed their contract (that being Robinson Cano’s 10/$240M deal at age-31 in 2013). It goes without saying how terrible for the MLBPA that resolution would be. I commend your proposing an increase for the MLB minimum/rookie salary, and in negotiations agreeing to an MLB-wide designated hitter, a lottery draft system, and an increase to the luxury tax threshold. Those things, however, either also benefit the owners or are small change while ignoring other factors that are of true focus.

The competition of the game is not something that would benefit from owners having more control, on cheaper contracts over their players while allowing many owners to profit on revenue sharing alone. To pretend or think otherwise shows the clear sense of entitlement that the owners have. I have also never heard of a negotiation where one group has come to the table with their eyes set on compromise, and while there is an attempt to paint this as something the MLB owners were doing, this further highlights the disconnect between the owners, the MLBPA, and the fans. Of course the MLBPA came to the table set on fighting for themselves, unlike what was done in 2016 under Tony Clark. Additionally, Rob Manfred has been the commissioner of the MLB since 2015 during which he’s called the Commissioner’s Trophy a “piece of metal”, seen and allowed a team (or two) to have cheated their way to a World Series title, and is now in charge during the MLB’s first labor lockout/strike in 27-years. It has to be noted that his tenure has not been as easy-going as he would rather it appears through this letter.

 

Paragraphs Seven and Eight:

To be clear: this hard but important step does not necessarily mean games will be cancelled. In fact, we are taking this step now because it accelerates the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season. Delaying this process further would only put Spring Training, Opening Day, and the rest of the season further at risk – and we cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994. We all owe you, our fans, better than that. Today is a difficult day for baseball, but as I have said all year, there is a path to a fair agreement, and we will find it. I do not doubt the League and the Players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to grow, protect, and strengthen the game we love. MLB is ready to work around the clock to meet that goal. I urge the Players Association to join us at the table. Robert D. Manfred Jr. Commissioner of Baseball

I hope that the MLB owners and the MLBPA can come to an agreement on a new collective-bargaining agreement before there are any hindrances to the 2022 regular season, opening day, and spring training. However, it would appear that the MLB owners are not willing to do their fair share in negotiations in coming to the table to collectively bargain with the players on issues that truly matter.

With all due respect, this is not a tough day for baseball. It was expected that the owners would commit to a lockout. It was so expected that this discussion has been major consideration for the greater part of the past two seasons.

Ethan Semendinger

Managing Editor of News

 

Post-Script Notes:

First, I cannot stand the “commissioner of baseball” tagline that Robert D. Manfred Jr. uses at the end of his letter. He is not the commissioner over the local team that I play on, nor was he in any of the recreation leagues I used to play. He is the commissioner of Major League Baseball, a specific entity and product. Hence, why I signed my name as the managing editor of news. If he can remove select words on his title, so can I.

Secondly, the MLB owners are in for a rough time going into the future. It took many many years for fans to return to the MLB after the 1994-1995 lockout. Unless the MLB is willing to freely allow steroids to start another “Home Run Chase of 1998”, they are going to require an intuitive solution to bring back fans to the sport if this lockout is not settled quickly. This also comes at a time where the viewing audience for the MLB has been falling as other entertainment options (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) and other sports (NFL, NBA, NHL) are becoming more accessible.

I desperately want this lockout to end quick.

Though, I am not holding my breath.

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