Play Ball

Ideas and Issues Sports Workers
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            New Orleans      Baseball’s billionaire owners seem determined to do their best to kill the sport.  I’m not sure how many people really care anymore, which kind of says it all in my book.  Football has been America’s favorite sport for quite awhile now, and basketball has been making steady progress and, in urban neighborhoods, has already bested football and baseball.  Nonetheless, call me old-fashioned, but I still pay attention from time to time and can’t help but keep up with this union-busting lockout of the players.  Spoiler alert:  if ever it was clearer in this contest whether to root for the players or the owners, I don’t know when.

Coming out of the pandemic, most observers might have thought the owners would be desperate to fill the stands back up, if that was even possible.  My son and I were lucky last year.  With the Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans, our choices are clear, but over the years at five hours driving distance, the Houston Astros have been our adopted favorite.  Last year, I was spending some regular time in Atlanta, so we got to a couple of games with the Braves, seven hours drive away from us.  Darned if we didn’t get lucky and find the Braves and Astros in the World Series together.  It seemed fate, so we sprung for a couple of tickets and sat with 44,000 maskless fans in Houston and watched the ‘Stros lose one at home, but we were there, and glad of it.

Now the owners have made a mess of it.  They’re embarrassed that they are the only big-league sport without a salary cap because in the 900-game strike that wiped out most of the 1994-95 season and the 1994 World Series, the players stayed strong and won hands down, blocking the cap.  The owners have a faux-cap now in the luxury tax, because many teams don’t want to pay it, which therefore sets a ceiling on how much they have in the bank for payroll and the rest of their costs.  The players want them to edge that up over the next three years, while the owners are trying to freeze it for three years and then nickel-and-dime an increase.  This isn’t my opinion, just the facts.  The owners claim they want more parity, but that argument falls apart when you consider that eight different teams have won the Series in recent years including small market, small payroll teams.  Billionaires without shame is part of our current culture.

There are other issues, including raising pay for minor leaguers, who are so close to working for the minimum wage it’s absurd.  They also want have some change for new stars who are stuck in their initial contracts, negotiated when they were desperate to make the big show, so they could get some bonuses.

The commissioner has already canceled the first set of games for this season.  If he and the owners who pay him don’t get serious about bargaining, expect this to go on for some time.  The union is the oldest in the sport, battle tested, and right on all of the issues, so it would be a shock to see them be the first to blink.  They’re know how to play hard ball.