Mailbag: MLB and the climate, bargaining wedge issues

Let’s mailbag!

It seems like the climate crisis is breaking through into popular culture — the Lil Dicky Song, the HBO documentary narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio — any indication an MLB player might weigh in? — Keith

I can’t tell you which MLB player would speak up for the climate, but now would be a pretty good time, considering what the Padres did (and will continue to do) out in San Diego. This past Sunday, bees showed up at Petco Park. The Padres’ response was to murder all of them, which [checks notes] is not standard procedure at sporting events.

Barry Petchesky (linked above) had more on the situation at Deadspin:

In the spring, honeybees swarm in order to form a new colony, as a queen and a whole bunch of workers leave their hive and set out to look for a suitable new home. When they find one, they mass on it in order to protect the queen and also look for a suitable cavity in which to start construction. It’s pretty intense-looking, but it’s harmless. The bees are not aggressive. It’s rare that a swarm of honeybees leads to anyone getting stung, as long as you mind your business.

They do have to be removed, especially if they snuck into the good seats at a ballpark without paying. But beekeepers know how to do this quickly and humanely, including with special vacuums that don’t harm the bees. The bees are then relocated to a safe site where they can start their colony and go on helpfully making honey and wax and pollinating our plants.

That is absolutely not what the Padres’ exterminator did…

The Padres apparently have a sponsorship deal with an exterminator, so that’s who they call when bees show up. The bees aren’t subdued and vacuumed away humanely, but gassed and killed. Which is not exactly the kind of thing the world needs when there is already a shortage of bees. Hell, my neighbor is planning on getting mason bee hives for his yard to help pollinate the neighborhood given the bee shortage, and I’ve been considering it, too. If we can put a bunch of bees in our yards on purpose, the Padres can figure out how to not kill their uninvited guests just because they’re inconvenient to the game being played… especially when a humane alternative exists to remove them.

Anyway, the lack of MLB players speaking up on this event out in San Diego is probably not a good sign about where many of them are prioritizing the climate in their day-to-day. That’s not to say no player is concerned about the climate and that no one is willing to speak up on it, but this was a pretty relevant-to-them opportunity, being a climate-related issue at a Major League Baseball game, and the silence here, as they say, speaks volume.

If you see (or saw) a player speak out on it, please, give me a shout. I’ve been keeping an eye out, though, and regrettably haven’t seen anything.

***

Are there any particular wedge issues that are ripe for the MLBPA to push, that would cause some ownership friction? It would seem to me that the ownership’s unity has been a significant aspect in the leverage they’ve created over the recent bargaining sessions, but that it wasn’t always that way. It would seem that the union could potentially benefit from less of a united front between owners. — Craig

Ownership unity is the primary reason why the MLBPA has lost some of the gains and the momentum of its first few decades. Bud Selig is a lot of things, many of them unprintable in most non-unaffiliated newsletter spaces, but he knew he had to unify ownership if they were ever to stand a chance against Donald Fehr’s MLBPA, and to Selig’s credit, that’s just what he did. This is also one of the reasons that it was Rob Manfred who became the MLB commissioner after Selig, because he knew the mission after working alongside Bud for decades in the labor battle against the MLBPA.

Revenue-sharing would have been a great wedge issue, given when it was first brought up in the 1990s, Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner accused Selig and the owners who would receive Bronx Bombers’ money of being socialists. However, there’s just so much money out there being given to lower-revenue teams, money that’s making the richest even richer, too, that it’s a bit more difficult to split their ranks with this. With that being said, the degree to which the Marlins, Rays, Pirates, and A’s — all four have an MLBPA grievance filed against them for failure to spend revenue-sharing dollars — might be cause for concern to the richer owners and teams out there.

Free agent compensation is another, as the teams that tend to sign free agents would probably like to do so without losing a draft pick, while the teams that tend to let free agents walk won’t want to give up the potential draft pick return. Even this is a little weaker than it would have been in the recent past, though, since free agent compensation does act as a way to diminish the power of free agency, and that goal trumps nearly everything these days. Still, wedges are meant to get you started, and if the goal is to splinter owner unity, this counts as a wedge.

If the MLBPA pushes for expansion, and pushes hard, that might be a way to create internal strife among ownership. It would remove cities from the list of Cities Teams Threaten To Move To when talk of needing a new stadium occurs, and more teams means the shared fund is being split up among more owners, too. The latter might be tempered a bit by the additional sources of revenue for the league inherent to having more teams, and that would offset what once went to 30 teams going to 32, but on the other hand, brand new teams aren’t going to be opened up in massive markets like New York or Los Angeles, either, so maybe the creation of more Brewers and Pirates and such would end up being a drag on the shared take home of the owners.

Or hell, the MLBPA could push for an additional team in New York or Boston or whatever, which teams that aren’t in those areas would love because it would help break up the singular dominance of those teams in their regions, while the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, or whomever this kind of ask would impact would be furious with both the idea and the owners in favor of it. The Nationals and Orioles are still arguing about their overlapping region, a decade-and-a-half later.

I’m not sure how likely any of this is, but wedge issues are hard to come by after decades of unity have made MLB’s owners richer than they’ve ever been, with the potential to be even richer if they can manage to further weaken the Players Association in the coming collective bargaining sessions. Pushing for expansion seems like the route with the greatest chance to bring the owners back from unified to their natural existence of extreme pettiness, so that’s the one I’d recommend if I had to choose just the one.

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