Toll of MLB lockout now includes games, and it could keep going

When Rob Manfred called the prospect of missed games “a disastrous outcome for this industry,” I assumed that it signaled intent on the owners’ part to strike a deal. They just wanted to wait for the MLBPA to drop its demands for an overhaul of the player compensation system, settling for the most modest of concessions to the players under the existing architecture.

I didn’t think he’d be dumb enough to lead the league into that pit, and without any attempt to cover his tracks. Manfred and the owners locked out the players as soon as possible, followed by 43 days without a proposal. The first cancellation of games — an action “forced” by an arbitrary deadline the league set — was preceded on Monday by a PR flurry of fake optimism with a marathon “bargaining” session conveyed through friendly reporters.

There were holes in that eleventh-hour story — most notably the lack of any reference to the competitive-balance tax threshold — and sure enough, the players made their disgust known on Tuesday.

Likewise, Manfred’s letter to fans was equally riddled with gaps in the timeline and lies of omission to anybody half-following the proceedings.

The lack of caring is shocking, even down to the shoddiness of basic tracks-covering. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t all that heavy-hearted when he delivered his update to the assembled media in Jupiter, Fla.

The first two series of the season are already off the league calendar, and White Sox season-ticket holders were informed that they can apply credit to future games, assuming there are any.

None of this was necessary — the lockout, the delay, the deadlines, the cancellations. Nothing has forced the owners’ hands. That’s why Manfred was correct in calling it “a disastrous outcome.” That’s why it’s so baffling that he steered this ship so gleefully into it.


A decade or so ago, the White Sox had a nasty habit of griping about disappointing attendance. While they might’ve wanted more support, it took them years to realize that shaming fans only inspired them to list all the reasons why going to White Sox games isn’t worth it. After several encounters with the rake, they finally realized that praising the fans who were there provided better vibes.

The league is courting a similar kind of dissent. Despite record revenues, Manfred publicly dwells on the money teams allegedly haven’t made.

The thing is, they’re lucky to have made that money. It’s not a fluke per se, but the sport has generated this revenue with technology and canny broadcast and partnership deals, not runaway popularity. The game has immense trouble lowering the age of its fan base, or getting the entirety of the country to know its best players, or generating action or picking up the pace of play. It doesn’t seem smart to take the people who happily watch Major League Baseball despite all the warts and make them think of all the possible better ways to spend one’s time.

Which is also not ideal for those of us who rely on those who want to devote that time to baseball.

Following the coverage of the labor issue, there’s a sizable (or at least loud) contingency of fans who wonder why baseball writers have agreed with the players at a near-unanimous level. That kind of doubt is to be expected, because we’re conditioned to hear out both sides, even in an environment where one side is doing 90 percent of the destruction. The sentiment has been so slanted toward labor that the media must be in the bag for the players, save an MLB.com that has turned into Baseball Pravda.

Set that natural urge for centering aside and the logic dissolves instantly. Nobody in baseball media benefits from the absence of a deal, because when beats disappear, jobs can follow. Their self-interest should have them pushing for any agreement. The players could sign a deal that restores the reserve clause, and while it’d be a horrendous mistake on their part, it’d be great news for your local writer or talker. As the transactions thawed, I’d have as much fun watching my Google Analytics page as I would MLB Trade Rumors. I’d also ask Dan Szymborski to run Lucas Giolito’s ZiPS projections through his age-45 season.

The incentives are at such cross purposes that, if the league’s negotiation tactics were anything close to honest and its offers resembled anything like give and take, you’d probably see a lot more writers telling the MLBPA to suck it up and get something done, even if that something is distant from the best the union can attain.

But no, it’s been on Manfred and the owners every step of the way. If Ken Rosenthal still represents down-the-middle baseball coverage, he gives you some idea of where the center lies.

Oh, Manfred and the owners will object to that very premise, tell you all about their love for the game and how the other side is more to blame. Manfred said it himself Tuesday, “If it was solely within my ability or the ability of the clubs to get an agreement, we’d have an agreement.” Yep, if not for those damn players that fans pay to see — if only Manfred and Co. could remove them from these negotiations the way they scrubbed them from the league’s website — then everything would be all right.

Manfred and Co. think the fans will come back, because they always come back. They think the players ultimately will break, and in fact that might be the league’s goal. The owners initiated a lockout three months ago, then made a belated, strategic bull rush toward the players on Monday and Tuesday. Naturally, their last-minute pressure backfired, just as everything in this relationship backfires. As Manfred listed all of the wonders in the league’s “best and final” offer, it was as if he could not believe the players’ ingratitude.

If Jerry Reinsdorf and friends were so hellbent on achieving the “disastrous outcome” with the first missed games due to labor strife since 1995, then we probably shouldn’t try to put boundaries on their appetite for destruction. That makes it hard to anticipate how everything will recover.

I’m not inclined to say baseball can’t bounce back. Despite all the fans questioning their loyalty, this could end up being a mere blip. Major League Baseball is a monopoly, and fans who want to see it played and examined at the highest level only have one place to go.

I also don’t want to blithely ignore the utter disregard and contempt the owners have shown for everybody who isn’t them, because that’s new. OK, it’s probably been there all along, but it’s public visibility is heightened. There’s exercising leverage, and then there’s straight bullying, and the owners’ eager rush to the latter caused a normally labor-agnostic media to side with the players despite the inherent incentives to push for a deal of any kind. If that’s evidence of Manfred’s radioactive energy altering the landscape, then we can’t just assume the damage can be so easily contained.

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Greg Nix

There’s really no other way to say it besides I fucking hate Rob Manfred and I fucking hate every single owner. It is a great cosmic injustice that they benefit from my interest in baseball.

jhomeslice

Reinsdorf is why I have not been to a game since Konerko’s farewell. He has given so little of all of his wealth toward a good faith effort to win, and money he made especially with bad teams and low payrolls, that I won’t buy a ticket until he ceases to be a cheap ass lowlife.

metasox

Always frustrating to follow a team when there doesn’t see to be a commitment to winning. Am hoping to get to some games at the independent league teams this yr

Trooper Galactus

Even when the team seems to kinda get things going in that direction, they always manage to circle back to their usual punch line.

WS: “We’ve signed Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, and Edwin Encarnacion, and extended Jose Abreu!”

Fans: “YAAAAAAY!”

WS: “…and Nomar Mazara will be our right fielder!”

Fans: “Uhhhhhhh…”

Willardmarshall

mlb.com doesn’t bother to include the players’ response….

roke1960

Ah, media censorship. Now it has spread to baseball.

As Cirensica

“A Drive Into Deep Left Field by Castellanos”

Red_Hair_White_Sox

“A Drive Into Deep Left Field by [redacted]”

asinwreck

This morning, Andscape (the new name of The Undefeated) ran Marc J. Spears’s interview with the just-retired executive directed of the NBPA, Michele Roberts. Contrast the relationship the NBA has with its players to the “baffling lack of care” (as Jim put it) exhibited by MLB.

Did you have any last conversation with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and how would you describe your relationship with him over the years?

Oddly, no complaints. Adam believed me when I said: ‘Don’t f— with me, I won’t f— with you, right? Treat me like an adult, and I’ll do the same with you. Don’t lie to me, I won’t lie to you.’ I think that worked out. Well, he was not as new. He really wasn’t as new as I was. He’d been working at the league forever, but he didn’t know me. I didn’t know him.

I’ve always understood that even as we both talk about the good of the game, I always understood that his bosses were the team owners, and he always understood that my bosses were the players. I just think we figured out a way to do that dance. Oh, I genuinely like him. I genuinely respect him. I tease my counterparties that other [player unions] are liking my commitment better than yours. I think it’s fine. He and I figured out what we could get away with, and then we negotiated.

Of course, that last sentence is key. We have a clue from Rob Manfred’s behavior just how craven the 30 owners he works for are at attempting to extract maximum value from the resources they plunder. That the 30 owners see players as resources to plunder rather than partners says a lot about how we got here.

It will be interesting to see if and when fissures emerge amongst the owners as they continue to shut down the game. That would track with the history of these work stoppages.

mikeyb

One thing I hadn’t really thought about is that most NBA owners seem to truly love the NBA. Yes, they want to make money. But some of these guys are billionaires who sit courtside and go crazy at 40 games each season. They yell at refs. They lose their minds at big dunks. They talk trash after big wins. And they get visibly upset after bad losses. So many of them act more like fans than owners.

Are there MLB owners like this? Steinbrenner seemed to truly care about winning for the sake of winning, but he also ran the most valuable franchise in the league. Are there other MLB owners who openly seem passionate about the game, outside of maybe 1 or 2 press opportunities each season?

As much as I disliked Jeter as a Yankee, getting him into an ownership group sure could have been a great thing for the sport. He seems to truly love the game. And now he’s out.

Greg Nix

Eh, you’re basically talking about Mark Cuban and Steve Ballmer. The other NBA owners are almost universally exactly as greedy and incompetent as in MLB.

35Shields

I don’t know. I think that the Bulls owner is more generous than the White Sox owner.

yinkadoubledare

I think there are more owners that sit courtside and interact than there are that sit in boxes apart from the fans. Cuban and Ballmer are crazy and get noticed the most but quite a lot of others also sit courtside. Dolan famously has had people thrown out for heckling him (including Charles Oakley), Bucks owners sit courtside, Micky Arison for the Heat does too, so do Warriors owners, etc.

The only MLB owner I’ve ever encountered in normal seats was Tom Ricketts, in the center field bleachers.

Last edited 2 years ago by yinkadoubledare
asinwreck

The White Sox owner used to hang out in the stands all the time, but that was more than 40 years ago. Speaking of Bill Veeck, the interview he did with Studs Terkel right after giving the keys to Reinsdorf and Einhorn is worth listening to for his reflections on the industry when it was considerably smaller than it is today.

vanillablue

I don’t actually think that’s true. There are definitely many incompetent NBA owners, but even those don’t seem as anti-player and anti-fan as most MLB owners. James Dolan is now an outlier among NBA owners, but he would probably be a median MLB owner. I think MLB would be better off if they had more owners who thought like the newer-school NBA owners like Ballmer, the Warriors, and Bucks’ ownership. No doubt they are totally greedy and arrogant, but at least they understand that the game is about the (star) players and don’t actively try to piss them off.

karkovice squad

The absurdity of the situation is that the players have dropped their proposals for restructuring service time and are now only asking for about $150m annually in new guaranteed spending plus easing the cap restrictions so that teams have incentive to voluntarily spend more than that in free agency.

Postseason expansion alone nets MLB another $100m annually just from the ESPN contract.

I don’t think it takes canceling much of the season for the owners to end up costing themselves more by lost game revenues this season and future revenues from reduced attendance and fan spending going forwards.

Last edited 2 years ago by karkovice squad
As Cirensica

Which is also not ideal for those of us who rely on those who want to devote that time to baseball.

We have been sucked into this useless vacuum of negotiation talks which makes us lose some perspective. There is so much at stage in the baseball industry. Sox Machine is baseball, White Sox baseball. It needs baseball to exists. With a short-year pandemic baseball and this shitstorm, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim decides to run a curling blog (I’ll probably read it), and even less surprised if it generates more traffic than SM could with no baseball.

Last edited 2 years ago by As Cirensica
soxfan

Saw a production of “Showboat” 30 years ago and overheard a conversation in the lobby on the way out. “Did you like his rendition of ‘Old Man River’?” “That man could sing me the phonebook and I’d like it.”

So I don’t know what the analog to that is for Jim’s writing, but he could recap his dog chasing squirrels or his baby learning to crawl and I’d read it.

As Cirensica

I hope chief has earned more of Jim’s love albeit the tough competition.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

We all knew this was gonna happen five years ago and now it’s happening. I just wish I knew what the number of games is that allows the owners to ‘break even’ because that’s the number of games we’re getting this year.

tommytwonines

Wow, a lot of division games would be canceled if the lockout lasts through April. Six games against the Twins and Royals – they gone!

35Shields

I obviously want the players to improve their standing because of how badly the owners have screwed them in the last half decade plus. But I’ll probably come back to watching regardless of how the negotiations shake out.

The expanded playoffs though… If we get 14 teams without major disadvantages for the non-division winners, I’m not paying for MLB.tv and will just tune in when the regular season starts in October.

Joliet Orange Sox

In the previous comment thread, Trooper Galactus made a point worth repeating:

https://soxmachine.com/2022/03/01/mlb-finally-getting-around-to-negotiating-through-deadline-it-set/#comment-9088628

Last edited 2 years ago by Joliet Orange Sox
Trooper Galactus

Extend it to most of the owners too.

2021soxodyssey

It seems to me the only way this will change is if MLB loses their monopoly protection. How do we get our legislators to take action?

joewho112

That wouldn’t change anything