Peter Ueberroth doesn’t deserve the passive voice

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The Society for American Baseball Research is 50 years old, and to celebrate, they’re putting together all kinds of lists 50 entries long. One such list is the top 50 Off-Field figures in MLB history, and I just want to start things out by saying I’m very into the idea of this. Seeing Roger Angell, Claire Smith, Marvin Miller, and yes, the San Diego Chicken receive recognition in the same list is a lot of fun! There is an entry that made me double-take, though — not because of the person’s inclusion, which is absolutely merited. But because of how they were presented within it:

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WWE might have finally pushed their workers too far

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World Wrestling Entertainment has long trampled on workers’ rights without anyone in the labor movement so much as lifting a finger in opposition. Their classification of workers as independent contractors isn’t new by any means, and neither is the lack of benefits for their performers, but WWE was basically left alone to do what they wished in this regard for decades. Now, though, they might have pushed too far, as the Screen Actors Guild is finally taking notice, and promising to begin protecting WWE’s independent contractors.

What brought on this sudden change in approach? That would be the firing of Zelina Vega, real name Thea Trinidad, for her refusal to hand over the keys to her Twitch account to WWE. Per a new edict from the world’s largest wrestling company, the third-party streaming accounts hosted by services like Twitch were actually under the jurisdiction of WWE: the plan, going forward, was to control those accounts, negotiate advertising partnerships themselves, and then divvy up the money generated by those platforms between WWE and the performers themselves. This is, in short, theft, as explained earlier this year:

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Tommy Heinsohn, union man and labor agitator

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On Tuesday, former Boston Celtics’ player, coach, and longtime announcer Tommy Heinsohn passed away. He was 86, and while best-known at this point in his life for the extremely, let’s say, Celtics-friendly announcing style he employed, he was a legit basketball legend in Boston thanks to his three careers in the sport: Heinsohn is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, one of just four individuals to accomplish that feat, and had a championship ring for all 10 fingers.

Heinsohn was also a labor agitator as a player, if you’re wondering why you’re reading about him in this particular newsletter. He was the president of the players union back in 1964, which ended up being a monumental year for the players. You see, like with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the National Basketball Players Association was a union without league recognition in its early years. They had actually formed back in 1954, but it took 10 years for the NBA to actually meet with and recognize them as a union. And this eventual recognition was managed in no small part thanks to the actions of Heinsohn himself, in his role as union president.

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Jeff Luhnow is suing the Astros, claiming he’s a scapegoat

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Former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is suing his old team as well as Major League Baseball, according to the Los Angeles Times. Luhnow has been on something of an “I’m innocent!” tour of late, with regards to whether he knew anything about the Astros’ elaborate sign-stealing operation, and all of that was likely a way to plow the road for this lawsuit.

You are probably wondering why I’m bothering to write about this instead of just laughing it off as a desperate move by Luhnow to clear his name — and I cannot tell you how much I wish I were able to do that — but there might be a nugget of truth in here somewhere. Not regarding his innocence, of course: Luhnow definitely knew something was up, I do not care how many thousands of carefully curated text messages he brags about to tell you the opposite is true. The part of Luhnow’s suit that got my attention had to do with MLB and the Astros negotiating a punishment. Per the Times:

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The MLBPA can still file a season-length grievance against MLB

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Evan Drellich published a piece at The Athletic last Friday, the focus of which was on Major League Baseball’s desire to delay the end of the current collective bargaining agreement because of the coronavirus pandemic against the MLB Players Association’s desire to… not do that. You should read the whole thing, but within was a note about the potential grievance the PA can still leverage over MLB, for putting on a 2020 season of just 60 regular season games, and that’s what I want to focus on at this time.

Here’s what Drellich had to say about it:

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You can’t trust MLB’s crying poor

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Now that the pandemic-shortened 2020 season is over, Major League Baseball has gone right back to where they were when they were negotiating the playing of a season in the first place: complaining about how expensive baseball is. Commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t even wait for the World Series to conclude before granting an exclusive interview to Sportico where he could discuss how much debt the poor owners had taken on just to give you, the fans, something to watch during the coronavirus pandemic.

Manfred claimed that MLB would post up to $3 billion in debt for the 2020 season, raising MLB’s total debt to over $8 billion. That sounds bad, just in an inherent, Billion-with-a-B sort of way, but there are quite a few qualifiers you need to consider before you contribute to MLB’s GoFundMe for a 2021 season.

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Mike Elias, ex-Luhnow acolyte, under investigation for O’s pension fraud

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Mike Elias might not have worked directly for efficiency-obsessed McKinsey, but his former boss and former general manager of the Astros, McKinseyite Jeff Luhnow, certainly rubbed off on him. You can see it in the way Elias runs the Orioles, trimming costs wherever possible, and, apparently, when it comes to breaking rules.

Luhnow is casting blame for the Astros’ sign-stealing on the people who used to work for him, people like Elias, and while that might be true, Luhnow was certainly involved, too, regardless of how much he says he was not during lengthy interviews.

Sign-stealing isn’t the topic of the day when it comes to Elias, though, even if Luhnow is hoping to clear his name by vaguely squealing on everyone who was in on the plan with him. No, the Orioles’ general manager potentially found a different rule to break. According to the New York Daily News, Elias is being investigated by MLB for pension fraud:

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MLB’s fallen TV ratings might be meaningless mid-pandemic, but on the other hand…

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​At the New York Times this week, Kevin Draper wrote about the television ratings that are way down for many of the sports playing during the coronavirus pandemic. The short version of the conclusion reached within is that there is little reason to panic just yet because it’s unclear exactly why Americans aren’t watching sports on TV like they usually do, and that’s a reasonable take. However, maybe there is a reason to be on alert when it comes to how Major League Baseball will inevitably react to lower ratings and what that could mean going forward for their massive television contracts.

Back in the 1980s, MLB signed a split television contract with two major networks, ABC and NBC, that would run between 1984 and 1989 and cover weekly national broadcasts and the World Series. The deal was a massive victory for MLB at the time, as they initially valued the entirety of what they were offering over five years at $900 million, but then managed to convince ABC and NBC to each take half by stretching the deal to six years, and in turn ended up pulling in $1.125 billion in 1983 dollars. Today, that’s the equivalent of a little under $3 billion.

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Senne v. MLB secures win after Supreme Court decision

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Lost in the shuffle of postseason news came a major development for an ongoing lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Senne v. MLB — the shorthand way of referring to Aaron Senne et al v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp — will keep the class action status that it won last August. In January of 2020, the Ninth Circuit court denied MLB’s request to rescind that class action status, and now, 10 months later, the Supreme Court has done the same.

Garrett Broshuis, a former minor-league player himself who is now a lawyer fighting for MiLB players past and present, expected that MLB would try the Supreme Court appeal route back when I spoke with him about the class action status being granted in 2019. That was MLB’s last option against a lawsuit that has been on a roll in the courts: Senne v. MLB will now resume “in the coming months,” per Jeff Passan, as there are no further courts for MLB to appeal to.

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The History of Baseball Unionization: The MLBPA before it was the MLBPA

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Major League Baseball players had few rights before the signing of the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports in 1968. They didn’t get all of their current rights all at once, either: the battle was, and is, an ongoing one. Before the Players Association, before Marvin Miller, there were other attempts to organize baseball players against the bosses. In this series, we’ll investigate each of those attempts, and suss out what went wrong. Here’s part 1part 2part 3, and part 4

You would think the formation of what we know now as the Major League Baseball Players Association would be something to celebrate without the caveats of the previous entries in this series, but that proto-MLBPA was a mess. Obviously, things improved — thanks, Marvin Miller — but that all took time. The initial version of the MLBPA formed back in 1953, and it wasn’t actually officially recognized as a union for another 13 years after that. And it wouldn’t have its first collective bargaining agreement for another two years, right before the 1968 season began.

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