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Murph: Is it reasonable to ask MLB players take pay cut during pandemic?

© Kim Klement | 2019 Oct 8

As if 2020 wasn’t surreal enough, we’ve now found ourselves somehow reliving the 1994 baseball strike in the middle of a global pandemic.

Whoever is playing the pranks on us from an alternate universe — I give up. Uncle.

It started innocently enough when word trickled out last week via The Athletic that MLB was seriously close to a legitimate plan for an 82-game season that would start around the 4th of July.

Oh, were it that easy.

The good vibes lasted about a day.

Almost immediately, the owners submitted a 50-50 revenue sharing plan. There were only two problems:

  1. The players had already agreed to a pay-cut back in March when this all started.
  2. The 50-50 revenue share had all the earmarks of the dreaded ‘salary cap’ structure; a feature the NFL and NBA use, but that MLB has spent the better part of a century avoiding.

The players’ rationale, crafted by the brilliant labor leader Marvin Miller back in the 20th century, has been that owners have been hoarding almost all of the money. Players play the game. Therefore, players should not let owners hoard all the money.

That’s as third-grade as I can make it. And trust me, my brain on these matters mostly operates on a third-grade level.

Cue all the horrible memories from the 1994 baseball strike; a strike so damaging some feel it’s the most important symbolic moment n baseball’s slide from America’s popularity rankings.

The same principles are at play: There are billions of dollars of revenue. Players want their fair share.

And many fans *do not* want to hear players say they want more money for playing baseball.

That bears repeating: Many fans *do not* want to hear players say they want more money for playing baseball.

As if to drive home the point, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell blew the lid off any subtleties with his now-legendary Twitch Talk, words that just don’t sound good, no matter how you search for the logic behind them:

“Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go — for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof. It’s a shorter season, less pay. No, I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK?”

He went on to make points about the possibility of contracting COVID-19, and about how he’s already taken a pay cut.

I count myself as an ally of labor. I’ve often joked about being half-Bolshevik on the air. But to hear tried-and-true union buzzwords during a global pandemic, and in a country where we have 33 million unemployed, and where those who are still fortunate to be employed are dealing with furloughs and pay cuts . . . well, the optics are poor, to put it mildly.

So here we are.

What are we to do, as sports-starved, baseball fans?

One thing I won’t do is abandon the concept of players’ rights.

The problem with players fighting for rights is that the money involved is so huge, they look greedy. The old line “millionaires fighting with billionaires” is true. But that doesn’t diminish from the principle at hand. As Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller told us this morning: “It’s a $12 billion sport. Whatever the players don’t get, the owners get.” Or, distilled — if you argue against the players fighting for what’s theirs, you’re just ceding to the owners.

Which is fine, if that’s your thing.

Me, I’m an old-school players guy. I don’t mind the players getting a chunk of the pie for producing the product. Workers’ rights are workers rights, no matter the size of the pie.

It’s just that it’s a tough argument to make — however philosophically sound — while 83,000 Americans are dying from a virus no one knows how to stop. While I appreciate Snell’s honesty, and appreciate the good radio it produces, it’s probably best for players to holster some frankness in light of the pandemic. Style points matter.

So here’s to the next two weeks of negotiations, hopefully with both sides giving a little, taking a little. The owners are invested in having a post-season, for national TV revenue. So they’ll want a deal done. Players, hopefully, are invested in pursuing their craft and making some good dough.

And I’m interested in that alternate universe to stop playing such cruel pranks on us in 2020.


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