The year in creating sports coverage, featuring leftism

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The end of 2021 approaches, which means another year of this labor-focused newsletter has wrapped up. It was an eventful year, for both major- and minor-league players, and the goal of this particular column, as always, is to remind you of the year that was. Let’s get right to it — each paragraph represents a month, and I’ll highlight a few pieces from all 12 of them.

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On Rob Manfred and the “mistake” of 1994

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“We made the mistake of playing without a collective bargaining agreement in 1994, and it cost our fans and our clubs dearly,” [Rob] Manfred said. “We will not make that same mistake again.”

This line from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has been bothering me since I first read it in the New York Times, back when this offseason lockout kicked off. It’s just so disingenuous, on a number of levels. Yes, it was a strategic mistake, in a vacuum, for the league to play without a CBA, because it gave the players room to strike when they wanted to — closer to the end of the season, to put the postseason and World Series in doubt and the decision to go forward with those in the hands of the league and owners. To try to say the fans suffered for this mistake, though, and to lump the clubs in with said suffering, implying in the process that it was the players’ decision to strike that “cost” these two groups dearly, is where the bullshit lives. The decision was not made in a vacuum: it was made within the context of its time, and was a calculated choice by the commissioner and owners that they hoped would forever tip the balance of power back in their favor.

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Don’t expect a quick resolution to the MLB lockout

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“When will the lockout end?” is kind of an open question at this point. There was very little reason for it to end quickly after MLB’s owners enacted it, no matter how much optimism commissioner Rob Manfred might have publicly displayed in a lockout being a path to a quick resolution of the issues between the clubs and the players. Considering the MLBPA’s reaction to the lockout was basically “this is only going to make us angrier with you, you know” and a bunch of rolled eyes at Manfred’s letter, well, there is even less reason to believe that things are going to be smoothed out in a hurry.

Which is fine, of course, these things should take all the time they need to take in order to sort themselves out, but it is worth noting that we’re in for a long winter. The chances of this being resolved by springtime aren’t necessarily high, and I’m talking the seasonal date there, not the spring training one.

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MLBPA rep Ian Happ spoke on MLB’s inaction before the CBA expired

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The players haven’t said much with regards to specifics about the collective bargaining sessions with Major League Baseball, but we got a little bit of insight on the pre-lockout process from Cubs’ union representative, Ian Happ. The Chicago outfielder explained to 670 The Score how negotiations went in Dallas in the final days before the lockout began, and it all serves as further evidence that MLB had no intention of actually attempting to work things out before the previous CBA expired.

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On negotiating a potential expanded MLB postseason

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The MLB Players Association is correct to not give in to the owners’ idea of an economic proposal, but at some point, they’re going to need to concede some ground on the areas the league really cares about in order to bring about the kind of changes they want on their side of things. This isn’t meant to say, “hey, union, hurry it up!” or anything — take your time, guys, get that best version of a CBA no matter how long it takes — but more as a warning that some version of an expanded postseason is likely on the way.

The owners, obviously, want an expanded postseason. They want it for two reasons. The first is that more postseason rounds and games means larger (and maybe even more) national television contracts to broadcast postseason games. The second is that teams can make it to the postseason more often without actually trying to, which will help combat the idea that a significant chunk of the league regularly isn’t putting in anything close to their best effort, or any effort at all. After all, they just made the postseason!

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If forced to choose between arbitration and free agency proposals, MLBPA should pick arb

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I’ve been thinking and writing about the kinds of demands the MLB Players Association should be making of Major League Baseball in this round of collective bargaining for a few years now, so it should not be a surprise that I have some thoughts on the specific proposals we do have word of from the union’s side. There is a lockout because MLB seemingly wants no change unless it’s the kind that will further benefit the owners’ pockets, while the union is pushing to close off some of the loopholes exploited by those same owners over the duration of the previous CBA. Given this, there is the chance that, even if the PA holds strong and MLB lifts the lockout more because they blinked than because they crushed the union as they hope to, the union won’t get everything it wants — some proposals will need to be dropped, others prioritized.

Two that have received a bit of attention in these early days have been the desire to cut the time it takes to get to free agency from six years to five (with an age threshold component thrown in for players who debut much later and have already toiled within their initial contract for a long time) and cutting the amount of time it takes to reach arbitration eligibility. I don’t think it’s impossible that the PA gets both of these asks, in some form, but if you asked me to bet on it, I’d say MLB moves on one but not the other in order to try to limit the “damage.”. So let’s figure out which of them the union absolutely should not give up on, and why it’s the arbitration proposal.

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MLB’s lacking luxury tax increase a reminder of the limitations of bargained thresholds

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Just a few weeks back, in reaction to one of the few economic proposals Major League Baseball actually bothered to submit while the now-expired collective bargaining agreement was still active, I wrote about how MLB’s pay-for-WAR, algorithmic plan to replace arbitration could not work without revenue scaling. Two days into the lockout, it’s time to give another example as to why any of these plans that rely on bargaining financial thresholds have the same inherent problem, and that’s because of how MLB has treated the raising of the luxury tax threshold during talks so far.

As was reported by Evan Drellich, MLB proposed raising the luxury tax threshold from the 2021 figure of $210 million to $214 million, with it eventually reaching $220 million by the final year of the new CBA. That’s clearly just a starter offer in terms of raising the luxury tax threshold — the numbers would almost surely be at least a little bit bigger if the two sides were finished negotiating by now — but what sticks out to me is that it’s presented as a concession at all. Not by Drellich, who is one of the few writers at a major outlet who is actually nailing the framing and depth of their coverage, but by MLB. Inflation exists. Revenues climb. The value of money changes over time. The luxury tax threshold increasing should just be a thing that is expected to happen, not something that is considered a concession, especially not with the minuscule bumps the league is proposing.

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You still can’t trust MLB, because they still don’t deserve trust

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It turns out that MLB used two different baseballs during the 2021 season, and didn’t tell, well, anyone about that decision. You can and should read the entire piece on the issue written by Bradford William Davis, but I don’t want to simply reiterate what was said within here. No, instead, this thing everyone is talking about is going to be used as a hook to discuss something else everyone is talking about. I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain of the writing process.

The point we need to take from Davis’ piece, for our purposes here, anyway, is that MLB remains completely untrustworthy, and undeserving of trust, as well. That’s not a new concept, of course, but the timing of a reminder could not be better, considering we’re mere hours away from the start of a lockout of the players that doesn’t need to even happen once the current collective bargaining agreement expires, but will happen just the same. How are you supposed to believe MLB is competent, or acting in good faith, or any other positive you can ascribe to them in bargaining when they seemingly go out of their way to act in the worst possible ways? Or, if they aren’t purposefully lying and hiding the truth of things and so on, are so incompetent about how they go about their business that you can’t tell the difference in the results, anyway?

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