We all want baseball back. Owners do. Players do. Fans especially do. In theory, baseball should be back in the first week of July, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that will be the case. Who’s to blame? That’s the new Great American Pastime, isn’t it? Is it billionaire owners who are hoarding their riches in huge vaults, diving into them for a morning swim like Scrooge McDuck? Is it entitled players who simply “want theirs” and won’t put their health at risk unless it pays enough? Or is it @BravesAshland’s fault for this ill-conceived statement:
Personally, I love the fact that Ashland is willing to take responsibility for all of this, but you can’t really blame her for rich people arguing about money. There is plenty of blame to go around to other areas, and one in particular that is not getting nearly enough attention: Tony Clark.
It’s no secret that the players got the short end of the stick in the in the last CBA negotiations. They managed to get better services in the clubhouse, more comfortable accommodations on bus trips, and a slightly better situation regarding Qualifying Offers, limiting them to one qualifying offer over the life of their career. Unfortunately, they also ended up with a de facto salary cap by agreeing to a luxury tax system that penalized teams heavily for exceeding thresholds, and failed to have any meaningful impact on teams “tanking” seasons in order to better position themselves for draft picks or simply to save money in lost seasons.
In the most recent negotiations held in March concerning the league’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark was once again out-maneuvered. He was able to secure money for players who were struggling after being shut out of training facilities and sent home until the season could begin, and he was able to secure them a full season of service time as well. While all of that was important, for sure, he failed to see the giant loophole he left in the agreement that would allow the owners the opportunity to renegotiate the pay scale for whatever was left of the season. He also left them with the ultimate leverage, cancelling the season altogether, leaving the MLBPA with nothing more than the pittance he was able to secure them as an advance on their salaries. He even gave up their final bit of leverage when he agreed that the MLBPA would forfeit their right to sue for full salaries if the season was lost.
Clark had a responsibility, in both instances, to understand the difference between what players want and what they need. He compromised every time in favor of those wants instead of doing what was truly in the best interest of the players, and that’s on him. It’s not that Tony Clark is a bad person, or even really a bad leader. He is just a bad negotiator, and the owners have used that repeatedly to their advantage.
Do the owners bear some responsibility in asking too much from the players? Perhaps, but that’s how negotiations work. You ask for a wide range of concessions with the expectation that you will eventually settle on a few that are mission critical for your side. It’s on the other side to do the same, and in the end a successful deal has a fair amount of pain for both parties while still providing the “non-negotiables.” Failing to do that leads to a very one-sided agreement, and the party on the short end ends up feeling taken advantage of, full of anger and distrust. This, naturally, poisons future negotiations and leads to either a strike or lockout. The MLBPA has been let down by Tony Clark, and the distrust that has been sown will never be overcome while he remains at the bargaining table.
Unfortunately, no matter how baseball gets sorted out for 2020, the repercussions will certainly be felt at the end of the 2021 season when the CBA expires. The ineptitude of Tony Clark has left the players with no other recourse than to fan the flames of their indignation towards the owners, dig their feet in, and try to recover what they have lost over the last six years of his leadership. They will posture as best they can in the media, where they will find sympathetic ears to listen to their grievances due to the symbiotic nature of clubhouse journalism. They should reach out to fans and try to endear themselves as much as possible to them as well, because the inevitable conclusion to this story right now is a work stoppage for 2022, and unlike the game of baseball, the Blame Game never gets interrupted.