On Saturday, Giants’ concession workers to vote on strike

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Major League Baseball has mostly hit a point where, sometimes, players test positive for coronavirus, and everyone just moves on. The impacted players hit the injured list designated specifically for COVID-19, call-ups are made to fill the roster holes left by the virus, and everything continues otherwise unabated. It’s basically been treated like any other injury, which apparently works well enough for the players who are, by and large, vaccinated, but the normalization of how coronavirus works for them has helped obscure that those with less in the way of means and without the same spotlight are struggling and living in fear of contracting the virus.

Look no further than concessions workers for Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. These workers, who are part of UNITE HERE Local 2 that represents thousands of workers in the San Francisco and San Mateo areas of California, will hold a vote on Saturday prior to the Giants’ game against the Dodgers, to determine whether or not they’re going on strike. Their demands? Hazard pay, and recognition from the Giants that they have helped to create an unsafe work environment for them, one where COVID protocols are not enforced — hence the hazard pay demand. More than 20 concessions workers have contracted coronavirus since returning to work at Oracle Park back in June.

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On MLB teams refusing to assist with minor-league housing

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It’s pretty clear at this point in the Minor League Baseball season that a number of MLB teams simply do not care that there are minor leaguers losing money, or sleeping in the clubhouse, or in cars. It’s nearly September — the season will go on a little longer than usual, instead of it ending in a few days, due to the coronavirus-related delay at the start of the year — and these teams have done nothing to ease these burdens, even though they could. Given the date on the calendar, it’s fair to assume that these teams are just hoping the problem goes away when the 2021 season does, so they’ve got their fingers in their ears and are pretending they can’t hear a thing.

They could provide retroactive back pay and housing stipends for players, as the Washington Nationals did for their minor-league players one week ago, as the San Francisco Giants did before then. Advocates for Minor Leaguers have been pushing for year-round pay throughout the season, for teams to pay players for time spent in extended spring training, for stipends to help pay for housing, and for more significant meal coverage. Some teams, like the Nats and Giants, have conceded that these are necessary measures, and deployed them. Others, like the Oakland A’s, have said nothing, except for when they had a chance to pretend that actually, the meals problem had already been fixed. (It had not.)

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On the proposed MLB salary floor and messaging

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Surprised that MLB’s owners proposed a salary floor all on their own during the current collective bargaining sessions with the Players Association? I was a little taken aback, too, but as I wrote on Friday for Baseball Prospectus, just because the owners proposed a salary floor doesn’t mean they actually want one. What they do want is for you — fans, media, etc. — to believe that they do want one, and that it’s necessary. Which it is, of course, but not in the way MLB is proposing.

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On trading cards, player likenesses, and the funding of the MLBPA

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The news that MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and their three respective player unions all got together with Fanatics to completely rearrange the sports trading card world seems to have shaken that world. I’ll leave the concerns about quality control and that Fanatics hasn’t ever made cards before to those who know trading cards, but this news still presented an opportunity for me to dive into something labor-related from the past.

The history of baseball cards and the Major League Baseball Players Association is tightly interwoven. There is even an entire chapter dedicated to the business of baseball cards in the memoir of the PA’s legendary former Executive Director, Marvin Miller. And that’s because it was through baseball cards that the Players Association was initially able to fund itself and its actions — a necessity for a group set to challenge those with pockets as deep as even the owners of Miller’s day:

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Better Know a Commissioner: William Eckert

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Before Rob Manfred, before Bud Selig, there were lots of other aggravating, power-hungry men leading up Major League Baseball. This series exists to discuss the history of every commissioner MLB has had, with particular focus, where applicable, on their interactions and relationship with labor, the players. The rest of the series can be found through this link.

Ford Frick was not pushed out of office like his predecessor, Happy Chandler, but when he retired in 1965, Major League Baseball’s team owners were still unsure of exactly what direction they should go in for their next commissioner. Frick, the former National League president, had come from within the game itself, whereas Chandler and the first-ever commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, came from outside of it.

This was not a decision that the owners took lightly: there were more than 150 candidate names on the list the owners compiled of potential replacements for Frick. One of these people is one you’ve seen written about — and derisively! — in these digital pages again and again: Robert Cannon. Cannon was a judge who was advising the fledgling Players Association, mostly by telling them to be happy about what crumbs the owners left them with and to not rock the proverbial boat. Cannon wasn’t just some rando on that list of 150, as he came within a single vote of becoming MLB commissioner, but he lost that race to retired United States Army general William Eckert.

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On one way to challenge the legitimacy of the MLB Draft

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On Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus published my latest feature, “The MLB Draft is an Unnecessary Relic of the Past.” The events surrounding Mets’ first-round pick Kumar Rocker made it topical, sure, but did not force the arguments made within to exist: those arguments are longstanding, recent (and recent-ish) goings on more like further ammunition for said arguments than anything. As was written in this space a couple of years ago now, drafts are indefensible, unless you’re a team owner.

A subscription is required to read the whole Prospectus feature, so just in case you need the background on where I’m about to go with this, it’s about how if the draft once had a legitimizing purpose that helped the game, and not just line owner’s pockets, it no longer does: thanks to revenue-sharing, lucrative television contracts even for teams you wouldn’t want if you didn’t have to, and a streamlined and shrunken minor-league system, there is no real reason why, say, the Pirates can’t go toe-to-toe with a financial juggernaut like the Yankees when it comes to acquiring amateur talent on an open market.

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A’s minor leaguers can’t afford to play home games

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Back in June, I wrote about how Cardinals’ minor leaguers were struggling to pay for their hotels during home games — that they were spending more than they were making on homestands, even while staying at a discounted hotel. It certainly was not a situation unique to those Cardinals’ farmhands, just given the math involved in paying for a hotel for home games while making a salary well below the poverty line, but St. Louis’ minor leaguers were one of the first to speak out anonymously and with a team-level identifier attached.

Now, some Oakland A’s minor leaguers are saying the same thing is happening to them. Alex Schultz at the SFGATE wrote about how A’s minor leaguers playing for Single-A Stockton can’t afford to pay for a hotel during home games, even though the A’s got a bulk discount at one. The situation is the same as it was for the Cardinals’ players highlighted in June: thanks to coronavirus protocols during the pandemic, not being able to stay with host families, or stuff six of themselves into a three-bedroom apartment to rent at a severe discount, is sucking up what little pay the players usually manage to take home.

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Round-up: All-Stars’ labor priorities, and the A’s stadium plan vote

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The ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association have not been public to this point, which should not be a huge surprise. It’s just July, and the current CBA doesn’t expire until December. Plus, we just had a whole lot of public negotiating going on before the 2020 season, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic moving negotiations ahead of schedule: the PA didn’t seem like they wanted to go public at all until MLB forced their hand there, while MLB itself probably decided to rein things in a bit given how their extremely public, pandemic-related posturing went over — as one of my dad’s favorite sayings goes — about as well as a fart in church.

So yes, things have been quiet, with the only public knowledge at this point basically being that the two sides are in fact talking things over. The 2021 All-Star Game was last week, though, which means media availability for a whole bunch of high-profile players, many of whom were asked questions about what it is they want out of a new CBA. What struck me while reading about this was the uniformity of the answers: the players aren’t discussing the actual details of CBA talks, of course, but they seem pretty unified in terms of what it is they’re looking for out of a new CBA, in a general sense.

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The MLB All-Star Game’s ties to player pensions

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Major League Baseball players might have the best pension in American sports these days, but that wasn’t always the case. For one, they didn’t always have a pension at all, and secondly, MLB’s owners wanted nothing more than to never pay into the thing again immediately after creating one. The first strike in MLB history came in 1972, and due to disagreements over how to pay into the pension, which MLB’s owners were not giving cost of living adjustments to even though there was a way to do so that wouldn’t even cost them a dime of their own money.* Even before then, though, the pension was a point of contention.

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Taxes are one more reason you can’t trust MLB owners crying poor

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Once Major League Baseball’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season came to an end, the financial leaks began. MLB wanted you to know they had lost money, so much money, and that it was going to impact them in so many ways for years to come — just something to keep in mind as collective bargaining came closer to center stage, you know? You couldn’t trust MLB crying poor back in October, and you couldn’t trust it in December, either, when team sources kept leaking unbelievable figures to journalists like Bill Madden, in the hopes of convincing everyone that these folks were truly going through something because there were fewer games played and no tickets sold for the 2020 season.

As I said at the time to counter Madden’s doom and gloom:

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