The War of Public Opinion

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Hey hey, spring training has begun, and that means we were eventually going to hear from Commissioner Rob Manfred about the state of baseball as camps ramp up.  Enter Bob Nightengale, who is good for getting quotes from these big conferences when he’s not being dead wrong about transactions:

Commissioner Rob Manfred emphatically said Thursday that there will be rule changes to improve the pace of play before the start of spring training games, whether he receives the union’s approval or not.

Manfred also said that he’s not concerned with the abundance of unsigned free agents, acknowledging that the marketplace is slower than usual, but believe they will be eventually signed.

I believe it’s worth it for you to read Nightengale’s article for Manfred’s quotes, but there are some major items that the Commissioner discussed:

  • As quoted above, the rules will be changed prior to the start of spring training, presumably to get umpires and players used to them.  It’s still up in the air whether MLB and the union will reach a compromise, or if Manfred will just do whatever he wants to speed up the game.
  • Manfred also expressed confidence in the eventual signing of major league-caliber free agents as above, but also said this regarding player salaries…

  • Manfred also said (and it’s weird that it’s not in the same article) that there was nothing wrong with the baseball itself last season, which…LOL…

We can address the last point first, in which he is probably technically correct (the best kind of correct!) to say that the baseball is, in fact, a baseball.  But just because it looks like a baseball does not mean it is the same as a baseball in seasons past, as we have heard many complaints about how the seams are different and the surface might be more slick than before.  It sure would be nice if Manfred would just admit that MLB juiced the baseballs to allow more offense (read: home runs), and we can also then realize that MLB (and other professional leagues) sometimes mess with the baseball to drive interest in the game.  But that probably won’t happen, which leads us to the other points.

Regarding the salaries, we already know from our experience over this winter and from data over the past decade or so that the players are not seeing as much of the revenue pie.  We’ve pretty much known this since Kris Bryant‘s rookie season, and probably even before.  But Manfred is absolutely right that this is something that the union and MLB negotiated in good faith.  It’s just that one side took way too much and the other side got almost completely pantsed in said negotiations.

At this point we are probably looking at a protracted public relations war, with MLB having a powerful face in the Commissioner and how they can control their branding, while the union has their free agent camp that does not allow outsiders free looks (which if you think about it is pretty reasonable) while millionaire athletes grouse about not getting paid more millions.  If you think about it, the owners certainly have money left over (and then some) to pay the players what they desire, but the way the collective bargaining agreement works really does allow them to just not pay the free agents, even if they could help the team win.

Manfred is right that most of MLB has made the playoffs over the past decade or so, and it is true that the system makes success more cyclical than sustained (it’s the same way in other professional sports).  But the system is set up to reward tanking, which fans of many more teams than necessary (including the Cubs’ rival Pittsburgh Pirates) have experienced painfully.  There is money to allow for healthy competition without a flat out tank job, but to ensure that money is used efficiently, the system needs to be changed, and the union has to fight for those changes.

Perhaps the changes are in the form of relaxed service time requirements to free agency, or untying free agency from the draft, or stopping the limits on amateur and draft signings since everyone knows that younger players are probably going to perform better.  Most fans want the money to go towards good players anyway, so that makes sense from an efficiency point of view.  But the billionaires have the public in their corner, which means the millionaires are going to have to fight extra hard to bring the public opinion back towards them.  That’s going to be a tough task, especially when MLB knows that they can convey whatever message they want since they control the branding and media perception of the league.

I think if more fans realize how much the players (the labor force, see?) is getting screwed — as screwed as millionaires can get, anyway — we might be able to see the union have more success in the upcoming negotiations.  It would be better for the fans because the players they want to see are getting paid, and happier fans means a healthier sport, which means new fans, which would be a much better cycle than the one we are watching right now that’s spiraling into an abyss.  Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but here’s hoping they figure it out and prove me wrong.

As for the pace of play thing…well, yeah, it makes sense to cram more action into the three hours we spend at the park, so I’m okay with it.  I just hope that in the short term, the players and MLB can compromise enough that we don’t get more weird rules shoehorned in at the last minute.


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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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