The Billionaires vs. The Millionaires

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Issue 17, Volume 110

By Sam Levine 

Cover Image

As the days without sports drudge on, it’s becoming more and more depressing to be a sports fan. Each day seems to bring more uncertainty as to when our favorite leagues will return to action—or even if they will come back. As much as it pains me to say, my favorite of those leagues, the MLB, doesn’t look like it’s on its way back anytime soon.

The problem with baseball isn’t that they can’t find a way to keep everyone safe. The MLB, like the NBA and other leagues, can most likely make a plan to keep players isolated by seating them far apart from each other on the bench and taking other precautions. Baseball is a pretty socially distanced sport anyway, so it wouldn’t be too big of a problem. Right now, the obstacle is that players and owners can’t agree on a salary compromise. Last week, the owners made a proposal to the players’ association (MLBPA), which suggested an 81-game season (half the normal amount of games) and salaries that would be determined on a sliding scale. Essentially, the more money you make, the more you’d lose. Players making the minimum salary would receive about 46 percent of their normal salary, players making the most would make about 22 percent of their normal salary, and those in between would make a percentage in between 22 and 46 percent of their salaries. Though it seemed as if a compromise was being made, the players were reportedly very disappointed with the offer and quickly rejected it, sending it back to phase one.

It’s hard to blame the players, though. Not every player is the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, who, even with this offer, would still be making over seven million dollars. A lot of players are at their peak age, and there aren’t many years for a baseball player to really capitalize on a contract. The average MLB career is about five and a half years. That means that many players have around five to six years to make money playing baseball, and even those who play for longer only have around five to six years where they are really at the top of their game. Players still have over 50 years of life after baseball—they deserve to be able to make as much money as they can while they’re playing.

Recently, the MLBPA fired back with their own proposal. It included a 114-game season, a $100 million advance given to all players collectively before the second spring training, and a prorated salary for all the players. Additionally, there would be an opt-out option, so players who don’t feel safe can choose not to play. This is obviously more player-benefitting, and though it hasn’t been rejected yet, it doesn’t seem like a deal the owners would agree to. They have already stated that they’d be fine without baseball if it means not paying the players a large portion of their salaries.

However, the owners do have a point. Whether or not they have a season, the owners will stay billionaires. Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, also owns the Chicago Bulls, and the NBA is returning at the end of July. Reinsdorf won’t have to rely on the MLB season for a salary. I’m sure the owners would be perfectly happy going back to whatever business got them all their money in the first place, leaving the players out to dry. The players are going to need to compromise as well if they want to get back on the field.

Regardless of whether or not a deal is reached, this wasted time has been one big missed opportunity for the MLB. While all the other major sports were figuring out how to resume, the MLB could have completely dominated the sports world for two months. Interest levels would have spiked and TV ratings would have skyrocketed like never before. It’s likely that the owners would have regained much of the money that they fessed up to the players had they compromised, given that it would have been the only sport people could watch. I can’t think of the last time that baseball really was at the head of the sports world. The last time people would’ve cared this much about the sport is probably the steroid era.

It seems like it may be a while before we see the players return to the diamond. I got the chance to talk to David Hale, a pitcher for the Yankees, whose friends on the board of the union have said they have no idea when an agreement will be made. For now, all fans can do is sit and wait it out. Either the owners or the players are going to have to realize that baseball is a game, and at the end of the day, everyone just wants to see it come back.