Tag Archives: MLB

It’s hard, but stop whining

If you’re a fan of major league baseball, you have a right to be upset that greedy owners are holding you and the game you love in contempt, while a deadly virus makes a mockery of many things you thought of as normal and threatens lives and livelihoods. Things have turned upside down. I get it. I feel your pain and your anger.

That being said, it looks like you will have your baseball in one form or another. And it’s about goddamn time you appreciate that part of it and stop complaining about the package it’s coming in.

I know that’s hard, but stop whining just because it’s not the baseball you’re used to.

Sure, there are concerns. We want the players and coaches and people working around them in the game to all be safe. And I don’t just mean the people we pay to see but the people we don’t, the clubhouse managers, cooks, security guards, batboys and umpires.

A lot of people are affected by the coronavirus and the callous way the owners have treated them and everyone concerned with baseball including the fans is worthy of a serious karmic kick in the privates.

I also get that a huge chunk of our love of baseball is a stable foundation, a predictable format of a certain number of games followed by a postseason. Twitter is now awash with serious people questioning whether a shortened season will be legitimate, and I suppose that’s a valid question in an era where the phrase “small sample size” is as common a feature in a baseball broadcast as “clutch performer.” Baseball’s grand moments are truly grand because they stand out from a long-established pattern. Those moments, those special seasons become musical riffs we hear in our memory that have the power to take our breath away years later.

We worry that losing the commonality of a long grinding regular season will deprive us of the joy of placing that year’s accomplishments neatly on the shelf next to the others in our history and the knowledge that it is just one more completed piece of an orderly baseball universe.

People whose opinions I thrive on are upset that awards handed out for a 50-game season will lack luster, and I don’t blame them. But if we expect players to compete, if that’s what we’re really here for, the human reach and struggle to win and overcome adversity, then hell yes, the awards have meaning. OK, so we won’t learn as much about how good a team is over 162 games. Spare us all the lectures. We know it in our hearts.

All my life, I’ve listened to people say the true test of greatness is a 162-game season only to turn around in October and say exactly the same thing about a seven-game world series. The same people often utter both and are completely unconcerned with the apparent contradiction. We love both, the long grind and the final decision. One is a test, the other a crapshoot. But let’s face it, who doesn’t like a game of chance now and then.

If you like, boycott this unfamiliar experiment because it’s a contrivance of the greedy bastards who couldn’t give two shakes for either the beauty of the game, the artisans who produce it, or the human beings who invest their time and money into it. The game would be so much better run by people who loved baseball as much as they love guaranteed returns on investments.

Do what you can to never give the owners a penny. They don’t deserve you. Encourage the people who play and teach the game to quit MLB and form a better union. But don’t complain about having baseball.

If any of you look at this season and say “That’s not baseball,” then you’re getting on the same viral cruise ship with the morons who say baseball in Japan or in Korea or Taiwan is not baseball because it’s different — because it’s different from what they’re accustomed to.

But having seen baseball through Japanese lenses for more years than I like to say, seeing something familiar from a different perspective teaches you as much about where you’ve been as about where you are.

So fight for change, support the players and human rights and abandon the charlatans who run MLB, but treasure this season for what it is, a special riff in baseball’s musical universe. I guarantee you’ll never forget it.

NPB will open without service-time agreement

A long time ago, in a baseball-loving nation far, far away there were two leagues where the owners were not greedy extortionists bent on sucking all the short-term profits out of the game while leveraging their monopoly status to abscond with local taxpayers money and land.

In that nation, labor and management believed in peace, harmony, loyalty, and duty as stewards of the game. In that land, the owners never collude with the players union to hamstring amateurs’ bargaining power, and don’t have draft slot allotments or signing bonus pools, minor leaguers on starvation wages or labor strife.

I’d tell you that was Japan and the leagues were the Central and Pacific, but we all know that such a place only exists in fiction. While compared to MLB’s return-on-investment real-estate-development barons, Japan’s owners appear downright humanistic, and labor strife is (except for four dates erased from the 2004 season by Japan’s only players strike) is all but unheard of.

There were no pay cuts by owners, because the rule structure didn’t permit it, and on Monday, four days away from Opening Day on June 19, the players union said it will go into the season without a service-time agreement in place. Like the owners inability to cut salaries because of the law and their rules, the players’ inaction likely has nothing to do with altruism.

By going into the season without an agreement, the union is on the verge of giving owners an extra year of team control in addition to the seven-to-nine they already have. Essentially, players need 145 days on the first-team roster in order to qualify for one year of service time. But this year’s 120-game schedule will span just 151 days, meaning anyone deactivated for anything other than an injury, will not get a full year.

A typical 143-game season takes place over a span of 190 days, and the players want the rate for service time increased so that one game counts as more. They are also concerned about players making less than the first-team minimum of 16 million yen. These players get pro rated up to the minimum, but with fewer games, a player appearing in all 120 games might not come close to the minimum.

So the players are worried that if they go into the season without an agreement, the owners will, say thank you very much for your understanding then tell them say no one forced them to agree to terms favorable to the owners.

The players are going to do it, however, because they are unaccustomed to fighting for their rights. On one level there is a desire to play, and on another level, there’s a fear of appearing disloyal to the fans. But the real bottom line is that labor rights, although engraved in Japan’s constitution, are frequently ignored. Japanese court decisions are overwhelmingly pro-business, and the players have done little to maneuver themselves into a position of leverage.

The union fought the teams’ ability to control players’ image rights and lost, with the judges’ decision boiling down to, “Well the owners have a lot of expertise in selling things, so let’s just let them keep managing these things shall, we.” That decision was made despite the owners’ experience in managing licensing rights as waiting for people to throw them money and not always messing up the deal.

Labor negotiations in Japan make the MLB-MLBPA talks seem positively progress and engaging. More often they look like this:

Labor: “We’d like better raises, given all we’ve done.”

Management: “So would I. Our policy is not to give raises.”

This process is repeated forever until the labor negotiators, who are not paid for their time, get worn down by the sheer futility of it all.

What the union needs to do is attack some of the huge gaping holes in the Pro Baseball Agreement that governs Nippon Professional Baseball and exploit those for meaningful concessions, such as shortening the amount of service time needed or creating a real pension plan.

The real place to start would be Japan’s reserve clause, which a former GM said recently are essentially unconstitutional, with courts rejecting the claim of companies and pro sports teams that their contracts allow them to block the movement of entertainers and pro athletes.

“The reserve clause is inherently unconstitutional,” he said. “I have to think it will fall under the slightest challenge.”