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Tuesday, December 18, 2001

An Open Letter to Rob Neyer

Eugene Freedman disagrees with some of the things my favorite columnist wrote recently.

Rob,

I am a little dismayed by your statements about Don Fehr in today’s column   as well as last Friday’s. Perhaps you are not aware of his duties and feel that   because baseball union leaders receive more press than all but perhaps James   P. Hoffa he has a higher duty to others than just his members.

I’ve been writing for Baseball Primer about labor law so perhaps you will take   my comments out of line since you’ve had such famous rumblings with Don Malcolm.   Anyway union leaders have a duty of fair representation to the members. This   is embodied in the NLRA, but has gone though considerable case law clarification.   One of the more important cases involved a railway union that chose to negotiate   better job opportunites and wages and benefits for white members than blacks.   The NLRB and courts found this to violate the union’s duty of fair representation,   holding that the union had to treat all members the same regardless of race,   color, creed, religion, and other protected reasons.

This parlays directly into your comment, "He’s also helped bring about   a system in which few of his union’s members have a reasonable hope of reaching   the postseason, and the lowest-paid members of that union make but a tiny fraction   of what the highest-paid members make. And Fehr’s neglect of minor leaguers   is, frankly, execrable." Oddly enough in other pieces you’ve argued that   teams should not pay for replacable ‘talent’, such as Derek Bell and others,   instead opting for minor leaguers. They should, instead, spend all of their   money on players like Alex Rodriguez who possess special non-replacable abilities.   The union, does provide these players with a minimum salary, which has increased   substaintally over the past six years from $100,000 at the time of the 1994   strike to approximately $200,000 now. And, what besides this bear minimum salary   do low paid members receive? For their $8,000 in annual dues these players receive   around $30,000 in licensing money. That’s not a bad return on investment to   start with. How about a pension that vests day ONE in the Major Leagues. ERISA   requires that pensions vest after five years. These players get a pension after   one day. Baseball is the only industry where the union has succeeded in bringing   this benefit to my knowledge. And, who might you ask needs a pension. Well,   not the Jason Giambi’s of the world. More likely it’s the lowest paid and fringe   players who need a pension and they receive it due to the fine work done by   the MLBPA on their behalf. They also get health care and other benefits.

And what of these minor leaguers you care for? Sure they need representation   and perhaps with the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the MLBPA they could   receive the best representation available, but the law is clear on this issue-   unions only need to represent members of the bargaining unit, not future members   of the bargaining unit. So, until the MLBPA petitions for an election with the   NLRB for minor leaguers and wins such an election, they have no duty to these   players at all. You too can get 30% of the minor leaguers to sign cards requesting   representation and petition for an election. You seem to understand their plight   and their needs, so perhaps you could represent them.

You state, "Well, let’s see ... he has to take some of the blame for the   strike in 1994, which cost his players two months of their careers, not to mention   millions of baseball fans two months of games, including the World Series. "   Those lower paid players that you care about had their salaries paid by the   union through the strike fund. Every player made the minimum during the strike,   whether they were a $5M veteran or a $100,000 rookie. So none of the rich guys   you seem to think the union represents did too well during the strike, but the   minimum guys didn’t get hurt at all. And, if you’re upset about the strike that’s   fine, but it wasn’t an economic strike, it was an Unfair Labor Practice strike.   That means that the strike received higher protection because it was prompted   by the owner’s violation of the law- a violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA-   the employer’s duty to bargain in good faith. It was not because the union wanted   to extract more money from the owners.

The union is a democratic organization. The team player reps could be anyone   from each team. Sure stars are more likely to be elected. But that serves two   purposes. First it provides the union with effective mouthpieces in the media.   Who does Barney Sportsreporter prefer to talk to, Tom Glavine or Jesse Garcia?   Glavine is a wise choice for the players because he can get their issues out   front. Granted the players could elect Garcia if they desired. And, Glavine   and the other stars have something that Garcia and the other fringe players   do not- job security. Garcia could be waived or traded at the drop of a hat   and nobody would mind, except the union who would have to file an unfair labor   practice for discriminating based upon union status, but Glavine will not be   waived and it’s very unlikely he will be traded. He’s got a job, it’s protected   because of his skill and therfore he’s a more effective union leader.

Don Fehr owes nothing to you or any other baseball fan. He doesn’t work for   you. Perhaps if you realize that and then look at the benefits that he has provided   to fringe and lower skill players, you will realize that all he is doing is   his job- and he’s sure as hell doing a very, very good job at that.

Eugene Freedman

 

Eugene Freedman Posted: December 18, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Kurt Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:18 AM (#604535)
I didn't understand what the hell Neyer was talking about either. He seems to have a problem with Fehr...just because. Which is fine, but to deny that Fehr has done a good job for the players is just silly.
   2. Roger Moore Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:18 AM (#604536)
For what it's worth, there is another very important point to make when discussing the relative culpability of the union and the owners in the 1994-95 labor action, which is the behavior of the two sides before the strike started. The union offered to negotiate under a no-stike/no-lockout pledge, which the owners declined. I essence, the players said that they wanted to settle the matter without disrupting the game on the field, and the owners refused the offer. As a fan that makes me view the players a lot more favorably. They made a reasonable effort to protect the fans' interests without completely destroying any negotiating leverage the had. The owners refusal to accept the no-strike/no-lockout pledge meant that there was going to be some kind of labor action- a strike and/or a lockout- unless the players completely capitulated. The first move that affected the fans may have been the strike, but it was the owners behavior that precipitated it.
   3. tangotiger Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:18 AM (#604541)
That was an excellent piece.

"Cost 2 months of their career" could certainly be represented as money lost, or it could be 2 months of playing ball lost.

As for the fans getting scr-wed: DON'T BUY THE TICKETS. DON'T WATCH THE GAME ON TV. Why don't you simply watch minor league baseball? The product is half as good, but costs you 5 times less.

People love baseball. Baseball generates a loyal audience. Corporate America LOVES loyal audiences.

According to
http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/stories/2001-12-05-focus-expenses.htm
MLB generates 3.5 billion dollars, of which 1.4 billion comes from gate receipts. So, even if the ticket prices were ZERO dollars, that's still another 2.1 billion dollars that MLB generates. Let's make every ticket a flat 10$. That adds about 700 million$. So, we have 2.8 billion$ of revenues. Who should get that money? Steinbrenner?

Not counting player expenses, MLB has 1.6 billion$ in expenses. So, that leaves 1.2 billion $ to go around. Say that the owners get 200 million (6 million a piece) and the players get 1 billion dollars. There are 1000 baseball players, and therefore, they would average 1 million$ each in compensation.

That's with ticket prices at 10$.
   4. David Geiser Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:18 AM (#604544)
When did the Players' Association ever resist revenue sharing in general? They did say no to certain luxury tax proposals put forward by the owners, which effectively would have been a salary cap.
   5. Devin has a deep burning passion for fuzzy socks Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604545)
The question that this raises is simple: should baseball fans be concerned with how well the union represents players? What is more important:Players getting the best deal they can from the owners, or the stability of the game, both in the short-term (cancelled games/seasons/World Series) and long-term (survival of teams, financial health of the game) sense? I think for most fans, there is much more interest in the stability of the game, and therefore, as long as the player's union is disrupting that, Don Fehr is doing a bad job. (And I know that's not what Rob Neyer said.) I personally think that the players should get about as much money as they can from the owners, but, if not in their rhetoric, in their actions they need to think about the health of the game, because the future of their union is intimately connected with the future of the game.

One other point some people made on another thread about this is that they thought Neyer was making up for his attacks on the owners by going after Fehr. That's a load of garbage. There is absolutely no reason that someone can't be against the owners and against the players. We don't have to choose sides in this fight, "A plague on both your houses" is perfectly appropriate. Neyer hadn't been saying anything about the union for the simple reason that the union hadn't been doing anything this offseason, while the owners were running around with a ridiculous (because it can't be implemented) contraction plan.
   6. Mike Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604546)
Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob...

<<He's also helped bring about a system in which few of his union's members have a reasonable hope of reaching the postseason,>>

First off, maybe he's "helped," but this is overwhelmingly within MLB's domain.

Anyway, by my count, there are only 6 teams that haven't reached the post-season within the last ten years -- Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Anaheim, Montreal and Tampa Bay. The latter three, of course, have asterisks. Anaheim lost a one game playoff with Seattle in 1995, Montreal's divisional lead was wiped out by the 1994 strike, and TB has only been around for a few years. So 80% of the current franchises have reached the playoffs within the last ten years. Even looking at just the last five years, 16 of the 30 teams have reached the postseason.

Of course, you wrote about the players, not the teams, and you wrote about "reasonable hope" rather than actual postseason participation. What percentage of players with X years of service have reached the playoffs? I don't know -- we could find out if we really wanted to -- but there's no way you can characterize it as anything like a "few." When you expand the conversation to "reasonable hope," well, 8/30 teams actually make the playoffs each year; usually another 6 or 8 contend at least until September and/or finish within 8 or 10 games of a postseason spot, and perhaps most importantly, the players have the right to change teams after a certain number of years! They can sign with a team they think has a "reasonable hope." Would they have that right without strong union leadership? Well, they didn't for 100 years before Fehr's predecessor won it for them. Fehr has protected that right.

Side note: Why is "making the postseason" a barometer of anything? Selig uses the line about "reasonable hope" of making the postseason all the time. If it's such a big deal, expand the playoffs again. The NBA and NHL and NFL let a ridiculous number of teams in to the playoffs, and the public doesn't question the legitimacy of the league champion.

<<and the lowest-paid members of that union make but a tiny fraction of what the highest-paid members make.>>

Sure, it's always been that way (with smaller raw numbers) -- but the salaries of the lowest-paid members have risen too, largely because the union has not bargained away the arbitration system. There is pressure on baseball's middle class, but generally, no one takes a pay cut because A-Rod or Giambi gets $100 million plus. The owners simply dedicate more revenue to payroll and cry poor longer and harder. Look at the evidence -- as you've pointed out many times, complete stiffs like Derek Bell, Ricky Gutierrez and Darren Oliver still get multi-million dollar multi-year guaranteed contracts.

<<Near as I can tell, Fehr's big accomplishment has been to make hundreds of young men fabulously wealthy ... but of course, those same young men would be fabulously wealthy if a half-witted chimpanzee had been running the union, so I'm not exactly sure how brilliantly he's performed.>>

They weren't "fabulously wealthy" before the union came along. You think Willie Mays does those Coors ads and casino appearances because he wants to? Fehr doesn't deserve the credit or blame for putting the current system in place, but he does deserve the credit for serving his membership's interests since he's been in charge. And that's his job -- serving his membership, not acting in the best interests of the fans, the minor leaguers, or anybody else.
   7. Carl Goetz Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604549)
The real problem is that neither the players nor the owners give 2 s**ts about the fans. They have been given a monopoly by the federal government and all they do is fight over the proceeds. They can charge whatever they want and baseball fans will have to pay it, if they want to see Major-league quality baseball. If MLB had to compete, ticket prices would probably be lower and would be less able to hold cities hostage for stadium deals. If baseball were forced to do business in a free market, the fans would have more say and this would not be an issue. However, as long as the Feds protect the owner and the players, the fans get screwed. Perhaps there should be a fan representative present whenever 'Bud' and Fehr discuss collective bargaining agreements. Until that happens, or Baseball loses its exemption, then both 'Bud' and Donald deserve to be critisized when they act to the detrement of the fans. Just for the record, 'Bud' has a much greater weight of blame to bear than Fehr, in my opinion, especially since his job is to look out for the 'Best interests of Baseball'(which I would assume includes the fans, or at least it should. Last I checked, 'Toadie for the owners' isn't in his job description.
   8. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604550)
For those of you who didn't quite realize what I was writing about, here is Rob's column attacking Don Fehr's representation and comparing him to a lower class of primate. http://espn.go.com/mlb/columns/neyer_rob/42798.html

Rob,

Thank you for responding. I was only trying to get your attention with the Don Malcolm comment. I know you read this site and have used material generated by the authors in your columns. I did not mean any offense in that regard.

Regarding your continued complaints about lower paid players- this is true in all industries. Unproven players come in at the bottom. Usually, in unionized workplaces there is a scale of grades and steps. An employee begins at the grade he achieved through educational requirements and then moves up the steps over the years, perhaps grades as well if the employee is in a career ladder position. The baseball union has negotiated the same system, however it also provides that this scale shall only serve as a minimum- see Doug Pappas' website for the actual language- and the employees (players) may negotiate higher than the minimum.

In a star economy- such as sports, television, movies, and journalism, this is the perfect system. Unproven employees begin at the minimum and then have a limitless opportunity thereafter. Perhaps you would like to discuss your contract negotiations with ESPN last round. I don't think your skills have improved from the early days of Chin Muzak, but I would bet that you make a lot more now that you are a star- to some extent. The same applies to CC Sabathia, who can now renegotiate his wages to a much higher level.

Baseball does still however have the reserve system in place, which restricts earnings of less experienced players. The MLBPA has, on several occasions, attempted to create an earlier system of free agency for the players, however that has not been acceptable to management. How exactly could the players achieve this on their own. They have, however, though the arbitration system done two things. First, they have allowed players with 3-5+ years of service time to have their salaries raised to near market levels while still being restricted by the reserve clause. And, they have created a positive incentive for teams to sign these less experienced players to long term contracts to effectively buy-out the arbitration years. This does serve the less experience players quite well.

On your point of a democratic union, you are totally wrong. All strike votes and union elections are required to be secret ballot by Department of Labor regulations. The union, however is not required to give equal time to allow other organizations to talk at their meetings. I'm sure that when Don Fehr, Gene Orza, and others speak in favor of a strike, especially one with heightened protection because it was precipitated by an illegal action by the employer, the members listen and vote accordingly, but you would too if you were advised by a highly successful lawyer.

Take this example. I don't know if you're married, so I'll give you mother as an example. Your mother goes to work. Her boss sexually harasses her physically and verbally for a month despite her repeated requests to stop. She reports it to his supervisor, who in turn does nothing and the harrassment goes on for another month. She reports it to the highest ranking company official, who does nothing. She is harrassed for another two months. She goes to an attorney, who explains that if she quits, it is not a quit, but a constructive discharge- effectively the company is firing her by making her workplace so hostile that it is impossible for her to continue working there. So she quits, sues and wins. By blaming Don Fehr and the MLBPA for the 1994-5 strike, you are blaming your mother for quitting her job in the face of protracted sexual harrassment.

Regards and thanks for reading and responding.
   9. Devin has a deep burning passion for fuzzy socks Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604551)
Just because Don Fehr is fulfilling his responsibilities as leader of the union doesn't mean he isn't having a negative impact on baseball, and it doesn't mean we should give him a free pass for it. We're not members of the union, and the maximum compensation of players is not in our specific interest. He may be good at his job, but we don't have to like him for it. Put it this way, if God's a big baseball fan, Don Fehr's probably still going to hell. Not as low a circle as Bud, but it's still going to be uncomfortable. (Sorry if the metaphor offends anyone, but I can't come up with a more accurate one.) "I'm just doing my job" is not always an acceptable defense if the effects of your job have a negative impact on other people's lives.
   10. Colin Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604553)
I'm just not convinced that any concession that could be made by Don Fehr would "help" anything that people perceive to be wrong. I emailed this sentiment to Neyer directly, but until such time as the owners legitimately substantiate their losses by opening their books for complete scrutiny, anything Fehr might have the players "give up" should be viewed as money going directly into owner pockets. Not to lower ticket prices, and not to help small teams on the field, but more likely pocketed and lost in some trick bookkeeping.
   11. Kurt Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604554)
In response to Devin's statement " 'I'm just doing my job' is not always an acceptable defense if the effects of your job have a negative impact on other people's lives."

Negative impact on other people's lives? Who are these people? I've been a baseball fan for 25 years, and if MLB evaporated tomorrow the impact on my life would be minimal. There have been disagreements on this site before about whether baseball really has "problems", and without rehashing those arguments I have to say that MLB's "problems" really don't affect my life one bit.

Could someone explain to me how Rob Neyer expected CC Sabathia's 2001 salary to be determined? Did his plan involve Miss Cleo?
   12. Robert Dudek Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604558)
Bruce...

I think it's grossly unfair to scold Fehr because he isn't Marvin Miller. Who knows what Fehr would have done had he been in Miller's position? Neither you nor Rob have offered any but the most general arguments as to when and how he has failed to serve the players.

Rob claims that Fehr must share the blame for lost playing time due to strikes - but it is at least possible that he had no choice but to recommend striking given the circumstances. I'm not saying this is necessarily so, but if it is Rob's contention that Fehr is partly to blame, he should provide a detailed analysis of why he thinks it is so.

There seems to be a disagreement as to whether Union votes are secret-ballot or not, Eugene seems to think they are. Is there any way to settle this?

The gist of Rob's article seems to be that Fehr has not thought of the good of the game at all. What exactly should he have done in this regard?


   13. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604559)
I may have misled. I couldn't find a regulation about the secret ballot strike votes, however union elections are secret ballot. The MLBPA by-laws would govern strike votes. Almost all unions use secret ballots for strike votes, I thought there was a legal reason, there may yet be, I just don't have a cite for it yet.
   14. Don Malcolm Posted: December 18, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604562)
Eugene--For goodness' sake, I've had my other head surgically removed!! :-)

Rob--I think many people are puzzled as to your sudden epiphany about Don Fehr. After all, you've been hammering Budzilla for almost as long as I have, but you've been silent about Fehr--until now.

Roger Moore makes a very good point about the labor situation in 1994, and based on that (please see above), I think a valid question can be asked: what the heck could Fehr and the MLBPA have done to prevent the strike? Other than caving in, that is?

Also, rather than simply pointing out the salary disparity, wouldn't it make a lot more sense to present some potential remedy or alternative salary structure that would be more acceptable? You indicate that there is something seriously amiss, but you don't follow up on that thought. Possibly generating a list of minimum, average, and maxium salaries over the last, say, fifty years would go part of the way to clarifying this thought. A warning: it might also expose the fact that you may simply be shooting from the hip (only a jailable offense in Oregon, however...)

It strikes me that the $200K minimum salary is a much bigger jump from the average minor league pay scale these days than was the case in the past.

There is some useful data in Jonathan Fraser Light's Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball that would at least serve as a starting point for a more comprehensive look at this matter. I would also not be surprised if SABR's Business of Baseball Committee chair Doug Pappas could provide additional information in this area as well.

I think that you, the readers, and the issue itself would be better served if the discussion was expanded from ~300 highly charged words into several columns that actually examined the problems you are, to date, really only alluding to.

Bruce M.--I think all of us sympathize with your lament that baseball players have far less of a sense of social obligation as a result of free agency. However, that issue is clearly beyond the scope and control of the MLBPA. Free agency was a Rubicon for the illusion of innocence and a direct social link between baseball and a somewhat inchoate sense of "American values" that had become joined at the hip. We can choose to lament that passing and try to move on, or we can linger in mourning, which ultimately results in being alienated from what once was dear.

How Don Fehr can constructively address that problem is something that ought to be discussed here--if there is, in fact, a way into such a discussion that doesn't bog down in a quagmire of moralizing.
   15. Voros McCracken Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604564)
One of the problems here is that the owners record with the MLBPA is so unquestionably checkered, it's hard to blame the MLBPA for going after them.

Basically ownership's negotiation strategy has been to decide what it is they want, and then try and shove it down the players' throats. Under such a scenario, it's difficult to imagine where the MLBPA wouldn't become a bit belligerent. As was mentioned, the last stoppage was a pretty forced hand issue.
   16. Rich Rifkin I Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604565)
Eugene,

Instead of accusing you of being a dunderhead, I will give you the benefit of the doubt that it was a typo. But you must know that the title of your piece, "A Open Letter to Rob Neyer," is ungrammatical.

I quote from Webster's Usage Guide: "Before a vowel sound an is called for: "An Open Letter..." In speech and in writing a is used before a consonant sound: "A Dunderhead."

Regarding the Neyer article, I think one general point made by Neyer has been overlooked by his detractors. Neyer believes - as do I - that the current economic arrangement, in which a few clubs have vastly more revenues than most other clubs, is not good for the long-term health of baseball. Because Rob believes that Fehr and Selig are not well-suited to find an agreeable and better economic arrangement which is in the best interest of the game, he is advocating new leadership on both sides. To hold that position does not equate with finding Fehr a bad union leader. I think Neyer is saying, while pointing out some specific faults with Fehr, that perhaps someone else, equally interested in fighting for his membership, could do that and make a deal that helps the long-term health of the game for all teams. By drawing that conclusion, Neyer thinks that Fehr's approach and personality are not well-suited to meet this end. I think it's also quite obvious that the owner's representative, Selig, is not up to the task of finding a better economic arrangement. And so if Fehr and Selig were dismissed, maybe two new advocates, starting afresh, could more beneficially reach common ground for the long-term.
   17. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604566)
Rich,

Thanks, but you might want to address that typo-dunderhead problem to Jim Furtado who writes my headlines and posts my articles. Considering the subtitle of the article- that looks a bit odd without his name, I figured people would realize that I don't post my own pieces here.

I would venture to guess that even if the Union provided the most awe inspiring revenue sharing proposal that would solve all of the problems with revenue disparity and made such a proposal public, the owners would state that they are the business people and need control over how they run their business, so the Union instead has to react to the owners offers with regards to revenue sharing and not vice-versa.
   18. Robert Dudek Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604568)
Bruce...

I don't know what the purpose of your comparison of Fehr to Miller is. The posters who have objected to Rob's statements regarding Fehr have not called Fehr a hero of the labor movement. All they've said is that he has done his job well.

Are the players unhappy with their plight? At the moment the answer seems to be no. Sure Miller did the groundbreaking work but it's not particularly enlightening to critize an outfielder by pointing out that he hasn't produced as much as Barry Bonds.
   19. David Geiser Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604569)
Rob -


Maybe the $200,000 minimum IS too low - of course, if past agreements are any indication, that figure should roughly double with the next CBA. And it isn't just $200,000 - it's immediate vesting in the pension. If Gary Matthews Jr.'s major league career were to end today, I wonder what his pension would be for three years as a part-timer.

I think you do bring up a good point that the MLBPA ought to act as more of a steward organization for the game, and not merely blindly try to get as much money as they can for the players. The salary structure among ballplayers makes that a reasonable thing to ask for; I am willing to say that the $250 million going into Alex Rodriguez's pocket bestows him with some responsibility for welfare of the game. The thing is, I think the burden is on you to come up with some ideas about how the union should be doing that. They are, in fact, a union and unions have fairly defined roles in dealing with management. You are asking a union to do something that is not union-like. I'm not saying you're wrong, just wanting some specifics about how the union could act more responsibly.

Dave Geiser
   20. emancip8d Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604570)
It seems that Selig's campaign is paying immediate dividends. After Selig's call, Neyer has included Fehr in the Selig category of those who are not serving the game well. Joe
Posnanski of The Star (Kansas City) received a call, similar to the one Neyer received, of which excerpts are included in his column at
http://www.kcstar.com/item/pages/sports.pat,sports/3acd3747.c17,.html . This call evidently was quite effective for Selig as Posnanski writes such things as "Selig does make some good points" and "there is truth to what Selig says" and essentially concludes Selig and the
owners have been forced into pushing for contraction because the MLBPA is dragging its collective feet on revenue sharing.

Fehr and Selig are certainly similar in the sense that they are each attempting to maximize the slice of baseball's economic pie for the people that they represent. They each have "no play", either as a lock out or as a strike, as their primary leverage. The outcome of a strike or lock out is often impacted greatly by public opinion. My personal opinion on such matters is that a work stoppage is acceptable as long as both sides are negotiating in good faith. This is where the differences between the owners and MLBPA become apparent. In 1994 the owners did not negotiate in good faith. Between '81 and '94 there was a period of collusion among owners. And prior to negotiations this time the owners (via Selig) are claiming huge financial losses based on audited financial "summaries". As Selig points out, the numbers made public "add up". Of course the numbers which "add up" aren't the real numbers that matter. The MLBPA has the real numbers or at least the closest thing to the real numbers that there is. But the MLBPA and Fehr can't counter ownership's claim of financial hardship with the actual numbers because of a nondisclosure agreement.

Using the assertion of huge financial losses, Selig and the owners insisted that contraction is the only feasible financial path for MLB. This was in effect extortion against the public and fans across the country for public stadium financing. Now
that the public outrage has reached its zenith Selig has begun a "back-door" PR campaign by contacting columnists that have been unfavorable to him and the owners. Part of the PR package is to spin contraction as the result of MLBPA's supposed reluctance for revenue sharing.

In conclusion, accountability for a work stoppage this year is nearly completely on Selig and the owners, who are entering negotiations having tried to publicly and falsely position themselves as being in a dire financial position and have tried (and are trying) to blame their public stadium financing extortion, also known as contraction, on the MLBPA in order to reposition public opinion in their favor. The plausability of this conclusion is supported by the owners' previous actions including collusion and not negotiating in good faith in 1994.
   21. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604571)
For the sake of full information-

Title IV Section 3(k) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act 29 USC Secs 481-84 states regarding Union elections:

"the expression by ballot, voting machine, or otherwise, but in no event by proxy, of a choice with repsect to any eleciton or vote taken upon a matter which is cast in such a manner, that the person expressing such choice cannot be identified with the choice expressed."

The LMRDA also requires that officers be elected at a minimum by locals every 3 years, intermediate bodies every 4, nationals and internationals every 5. Local elections must be by secret ballot and other by either secret ballot or by votes by delegates where the delegates have been elected by secret ballot.

Courts have accepted Union rules that require a candidate to have been a member in good standing for two years prior to the election, however courts have rejected rules requiring three and five year requirements.

Strike votes are governed by the same rules that apply to ratification votes for collective bargaining agreements. That means that the Union By Laws govern the strike votes. Whatever ratification method is required in the By Laws, whether that be unilateral decision making authority of the Board, voice vote, secret ballot or otherwise is acceptable as long as all members are treated equally in their allowed participation. The Union need not provide full language or legal background provided that the Union is not intentionally deceiving the members with regards to the contract language or law. A good-faith synopsis is sufficient. Furthermore, if a Union sponsered newsletter features a statement either for or against, the opposition has a right to place an ad opposing the Union's position.

I hope this sheds some light on the situation.
   22. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604573)
Eugene,
Was this an "open letter," or did you also send it to Neyer directly?

Kurt,
What you have to understand about Neyer (and Bill James, for that matter) is that they're fans of the Royals. They're coming at this from a small-market-bias standpoint. Their team keeps insisting it can't compete under the economic system. Whether that's true, or whether the team just refuses to compete, the point is that Neyer believes, with some justification, that the Royals won't compete until the system changes. And instead of looking at why the system is where it is, he takes the lazy way out and just says, "Well, both sides are at fault."
   23. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604574)
I sent the letter to Rob via e-mail and the Primer simultaneously. It was a cc- so Rob was aware that I was sharing it with the Primer. It wasn't posted on the website until some time later, within the next day- 12-16 hours later. When I sent it I was not sure it would necessarily be posted here, but Rob did have the head's up that I have been writing for the Primer on labor relations matters and that I had simultaneously sent it to the Primer.

I hope it wasn't an ambush. That was not my intent.
   24. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604575)
Rob says, the players would be educated by someone other than the union and its representatives, and asks, You really expect a rookie to make an informed, independent decision? Like I said, it's a joke.

Players *are* educated by someone other than the union and its representatives. The agents. Who (with the probable exception of Steve Fehr, for obvious reasons) represent an independent power base from that of the MLBPA. In any case, whether the players are or not, how is this the fault of the union? Whether a rookie can make an informed decision or not, what is Don Fehr supposed to do about it? He can't educate the player without running afoul of the first complaint.

Devin writes: Just because Don Fehr is fulfilling his responsibilities as leader of the union doesn't mean he isn't having a negative impact on baseball. Judd writes: It's another thing altogether to squeeze everything out of the owners and, because of your advantageous position, leave them with an inability to correct for market forces.

As for Devin, Judd, and everyone else who has weighed in on the anti-Fehr side, please give *concrete* examples of what Fehr has done wrong. Even *assuming* there's a problem with baseball besides stupidity in some markets, what has *Fehr* done wrong? How have *Fehr's* actions contributed to this problem? Everyone who isn't on Bud Selig's payroll agrees that revenue sharing is the primary solution. Hell, even the Blue Ribbon Panel, which *was* on Selig's payroll, argued for revenue sharing rather than a salary cap. The union has never argued against revenue sharing, except when it was really a salary cap in disguise (because it was tied to payroll rather than revenues).

If the owners voted tomorrow to pool local revenues, the way Rich and Bob Costas and others (but certainly not I) want, and the players vetoed that, *then* you'd have grounds to complain. The owners have never proposed anything like that. So, I reiterate: what has Fehr done wrong? What could he have done differently, other than simply capitulate to all owner demands?

Until you can explain that, it's NOT legitimate to say, "A plague on both your houses." One side has lied. One side has lied under oath. One side has breached their contract with the other. One side has violated labor law. None of those sides are the players.
   25. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604578)
Let me add one other point: what exactly would be gotten for the minor leaguers? Free agency? They have that already. Higher salaries? Where's the money coming from? It's not as if minor leaguers qua minor leaguers are worth anything, economically speaking. They're not big revenue-generating assets.
   26. The Original Gary Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604579)
Having known Jim Furtado for many years, I can confirm that he is, indeed, a dunderhead.
   27. Walt Davis Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604582)
What evidence is there that the Union has done anything to hurt the state of the game? The Union has access to the detailed financial information (possibly even accurate), we don't. So we have no evidence that their financial demands are in any way out of line with the economics of the game. Furthermore, most independent analysts agree that baseball is making money. Revenues (esp. broadcasting) have been increasing steadily and franchise values have been too. How can one possibly look at baseball ca. 1990 vs. today and say it's in worse shape today, even despite the 94 strike?

And I've seen no convincing evidence that competitive balance is any different than it's always been. In fact, I've seen pretty convincing evidence that it's quite well balanced -- whether it's the piece on bp about how many different teams would have made the playoffs had they stuck to the 2-division format or the fact that the Yanks' regular season winning percentage has gone down recently or the fact that I don't think we can blame the players' union for the fact that the Cubs, White Sox, and Red Sox haven't won World Series in 93, 84, and 83 seasons respectively.

Nor is it the MLBPA's fault that the owners refuse to use the single most obvious reform to help equalize revenues (and possibly improve competitive balance) -- let teams move! It's worked wonders for the other pro sports.

Expanding the union to include minor league players is something I'd like to see but is not something they are required to do. The minor leaguers could of course organize on their own though there are obvious reasons why they're unwilling to take that risk. But I fail to see how such an expansion would jive with the arguments about the Union hurting the state of the game. If minor leaguers were unionized, labor costs (salary, benefits, etc.) would rise which, if anything, would put the financials in worse shape. And of course if we're talking about how minor-leaguers should make more, we also need to discuss the rising revenues and franchise prices of minor league teams -- it's time they started sharing the wealth with their players.

Since there is little to no connection between players' salaries and ticket prices, there's no reason to think the Union has hurt the fans much there. The presence of talented stars (i.e. high-priced players) on a team presumably makes it more likely that games will be televised, so I don't see the fans losing there either.

Let's apply this "they should think of the fans" argument to another thread. It's quite obvious that many fans in Toronto are upset that Koch, Gonzalez, and possibly Mondesi are leaving. Is it Ricciardi's job to put the fans' interests (recognizable names on the field) first? Putting the fans first is one of the reasons why teams like the Cubs and Red Sox are perennial failures. If the Yankees put the fans first, their fans would still be seeing Tino and O'Neill and maybe even Girardi.

And I can't find the cite right now, but I swear the other day I read that, as a percentage of total revenue, baseball salaries are _behind_ the other pro sports. That would be the best evidence that Fehr's not doing a good job, but only in the sense that he's not getting enough money for the players ... which I'm pretty sure is not Rob's argument.

And the comparisons of the MLBPA to other unions is badly missing the mark. The MLBPA is not a _labor_ union, but a _craft_ union. They represent highly skilled, unreplaceable labor. As such, better comparisons are groups like the AMA, ABA, airline pilots' unions, the AAUP, etc. The history, structure, and economic inequality found in the MLBPA is common to crafts, where licensing, apprenticeships, etc. are all regularly used to limit the supply of labor and leave the big money for those at the top. May not be fair, but it's commonplace.

And I find the sympathy for minor-leaguers and minimum salary players a bit amusing. I'm practically Socialist in my beliefs on such matters, but from my experience those arguing for salary caps, spreading the (players'!) wealth, etc. tend to be free marketeers. Hmmm....
   28. Robert Dudek Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604585)
Walt Davis...

You stated that competitive balance is the same as always.

I direct your attention to the following thread on Baseball Primer about the new Yankees TV network.

I calculated the standard deviation of 4-year winning percentage in the Free-Agency era. Competitive balance is not a constant - it never has been. By any conceivable measure you'd want to use, MLB has been much more competitive in the Draft era (post-1964) than it was before. By my measure, competitive balance has decreased appreciably since the late-80s/early90s.

We can speculate about why this has happened, but I'm convinced that it has. It may be cyclical and it may return to the level we saw in the 80s, but that is the future and so has yet to be determined.

I'm sick of people on both sides of the issue ("half the teams have lost hope of competing"..."competetive balance hasn't changed") making blanket statements without studying the relevent data carefully.

   29. Walt Davis Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604589)
the barf bag comment was not posted by me.

And I'd love for you to show me your data. I'm not a professional sabermetrician and I'm not going to take the time to calculate all the relevant data (I've got a job and other interests too :-). Nor it seems have you (surely there's more relevant data than just the standard deviation of winning percentages).

Does expanding the playoffs counter-act the effects of decreased competitive balance?

The Yankees TV deal definitely creates huge revenue disparities which presumably will eventually lead to competitive advantages for the Yankees (which they've always had but perhaps not to that degree). Of course the Cubs, Braves, and other media-owned teams might well be able to generate such revenues but prefer to keep those revenues on the other set of books.

But what in the world are the players supposed to do about the Yankees revenue advantage? Accept a salary cap so the Yankees can pocket all that extra cash as pure profit? Go on strike unless the owners pool local broadcast revenues? Force the Expos to move to Brooklyn, Long Island, or northern New Jersey? That the revenues of major league baseball are skewed and possibly getting worse is neither (1) the fault of the players nor (2) something the players can do anything about.
   30. Walt Davis Posted: December 19, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604590)
by the way, I made no "blanket statement" about competitive balance. What I said was I had seen no evidence to convince me that competitive balance was worse than it's been in the past and that, to the contrary, what evidence I'd seen suggested no serious problems with competitive balance.
   31. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 20, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604595)
Nick,

I would like for you to explain how the minor leaguers could be added to the Bargaining Unit. Surely they could represent them in the same Union, but the Bargaining Unit test is community of interest. In analyzing community of interest among employee groups, the Board considers bargaining history, functional integration, employee interchange, employee skills, work performed, common supervision and similarity in wages, hours, benefits and other terms and conditions
of employment. J.C. Penney Co., 328 NLRB No. 105 (1999); Armco, Inc., 271 NLRB 350 (1984).

Because the scope or unit is basic to and permeates the whole collective bargaining relationship, each determination, in order to
further effective expression of the statutory provisions, must have a direct relevancy to the circumstances within which collective
bargaining is to take place. For, if the unit determination fails to relate to the factual situation with which the parties must deal,
efficient and stable collective bargaining is undermined rather than fostered. Id. at 137. Kalamazoo Paper Box, 136 NLRB 137 (1962) Accord: Gustave, Inc., 257 NLRB
1069 (1981).

I would suggest that the wages, and other terms and conditions of employment, supervision, and bargaining history are so disparate that it would overcome any functional integration, employee skills, and employee interchange that might suggest an appropriate unit.

For those not familiar with an appropriate unit, it means that the unit need not be perfect, rather just appropriate and there may be more than one appropriate unit. If there is another appropriate unit, the Board defers to the petitioned for unit provided it is an appropriate unit.
   32. dlf Posted: December 20, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604599)
Eugene,

You appear to place all of your eggs in one basket on the 'bargaining unit' issue: disparity of pay. *All* other elements you list appear to be substantially, if not entirely, similar.

You make a second assumption which appears unfounded: you assume that a reviewing court (or NLRB) would apply the same standards and rules to baseball that they apply to the real world. As can be seen through the long history of sports law decisions, from the Federal League case through the recent Garvey 9th Circuit decisions, courts have ignored traditional precedent, taken off their robes, and become bleacher fans repeatedly.

Ian,

To a degree, the MLBPA does represent some minor league players. The just expired CBA provides minimum rates of pay (approx $37,500 per annum) for players who have MLB service time but are returned to the minors. Now compared to A-Rod's salary, $37,500 doesn't seem like that much. But for 6 months of work ... annualized, its about 2 to 3 times more than a school teacher makes.
   33. Robert Dudek Posted: December 21, 2001 at 01:19 AM (#604603)
Joe Max...

Please read the thread I linked to (you may have to refresh to get the latest version).

Why 4-year? You could go with 3 or 5 and you'd see very similar results. One year is not appropriate because there is a difference between a league where the SAME teams finish near the bottom every year and one where DIFFERENT ones finished near the bottom over several years. These might have very similar one-year ST Dev but their 3 or 4 year would be very different. The second league would be more competitive because there would be fewer teams stuck bear the bottom (perennial doormats).

One-year WPCT is just too random. You can have a team win 90 games in one year when their true level is 70. Bill James in the 1989 Abstract did a study using computer modeling to determine the chances of a mediocre team winning the pennant and World Series.

I chose 4-year because it balances the need to avoid a small sample size (and 162 games is a very small sample of games) with the need to keep the data focused enough so you aren't estimating the abilities of a completely different set of players (that's what would happen if you used 8-year WPCT). Over a 4-year stretch, most teams retain a core of the same players so using that length of time is meaningful IMO.

And yes I used rolling averages.

To summarize, stdev of 4-year WPCT was lowest in the 90-93 period at .0334. It was below .04 in only 5 periods since 1970 (and probably never before 1970): 81-84, 89-92, 90-93, 91-94, 92-95. It was lower than .05 in every period from 81-84 to 94-97. It was higher than ,05 in every other period going back to at least 70-73.

Since the 92-95 period, 4-year stdev of WPCT has jumped: 93-96: .0471, 94-97: .0485, 95-98: .0518, 96-99: .0528, 97-00: .0528, 98-01: .0576. Note that I didn't include teams which operated during only part of a given period, so the Rockies and Marlins are first included in the 93-96 period and the D-backs and Rays are first included in the 98-01 period. By the way, if we took out those two clubs the 98-01 figure would be .0566.

If you'd like to discuss more of the details you can reach me at the above e-mail address.

   34. Robert Dudek Posted: December 21, 2001 at 01:20 AM (#604605)
Walt Davis....

If you read the thread I linked to then you may want to consider the data I presented as evidence that competitive balance is not the same now as it was in the 80s and early 90s.

There is nothing more relevant than winning percentages. Winning games is the goal of every baseball team and generally speaking teams try to win every game they play even if they have a secure playoff position before the end of the season.

I addressed Joe Max's concern about why I use 4-year WPCT so I won't rehash my arguments here. I suggested that using 5 or 3 year WPCT would be just as good. Making a list of playoff teams is not a good way to address this question because which teams do and do not make the playoffs in a given year is highly influenced by luck (we would say there is a lot of statistical noise).

Of course we can change the system to let in even more playoff teams and the result would be that even really bad teams can occasionally make the playoffs (it is very possible for a team to exceed its real level of ability by 15-20 games by sheer luck). The increase in the number of playoff teams should have the effect of decreasing the stdev of WPCT slightly since it now becomes easier to make the playoffs and so teams will have less incentive to build more powerful teams (building a team that can win 90-95 games will almost always get you in the playoffs under the current system, but if there were no league playoffs (the pre-69 system) then 90-95 wins would most probably not be enough).

Competetive balance has decreased since the early 90s - of that I have no doubt. Whether or not there is "too much" or "too little" imbalance is not a question that can be objectively settled.

   35. Robert Dudek Posted: December 21, 2001 at 01:20 AM (#604607)
I'm sick of people on both sides of the issue ("half the teams have lost hope of competing"..."competetive balance hasn't changed") making blanket statements without studying the relevent data carefully.
   36. Mike Posted: December 27, 2001 at 01:20 AM (#604640)
"Also, the comment about "losing 2 months of baseball" I think is a direct reference that those lose 2 months of official days played, which contribute to eligibility to arbitration and free agency, which are the only real things that cause a players salary to increase, until then the players can be renewed at a very marginal % increase. And since they only become eligible at one time a year (during the winter) that 2 months cost many players free agency and arbitration eligibility for another year."

IIRC, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the MLBPA and the players received service time credit for those days.

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