Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Forty years of mistrust. That's how one high-powered agent put it on Monday night when describing the dynamic between Major League Baseball and the Players Association.
But that agent went on to make the point that this time can and should be an exception. The sides have never negotiated during a pandemic, or against the backdrop of tens of thousands of American deaths.
Why not use this as an opportunity to build new connections?
That was the sentiment of several of the game's most prominent agents after hawkish comments from agent Scott Boras (to Sports Illustrated) and Players Association executive director Tony Clark (to The Athletic).
"The players I represent are unified in that they reached an agreement and they sacrificed anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of their salaries so that the games could amicably continue," Boras told SI. "The owners represented during that negotiation that they could operate without fans in the ballpark. Based on that, we reached an agreement and there will not be a renegotiation of that agreement."
Not every agent agrees with Boras' interpretation of the prior agreement.
"That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they've failed to achieve in the past -- and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days -- suggests they know exactly how this will be received," Clark told The Athletic.
To their credit, both Boras and Clark put their names to their comments; the other agents did not. They didn't want to add to the public bickering. But they made clear that agents -- and by extension players -- are far from united in the combative approach on display Monday.
"He does not speak for all of us," one prominent agent said of Boras' aggressive public stance.
To be sure, there is fault on both sides. Owners have earned distrust with everything from collusion in the 1980s to player suspicions over a repeat in recent slow offseasons. Players have long felt that teams do not pass along a fair percentage of their profits.
The plan approved Monday by MLB owners, which the union is expected to reject on Tuesday, involves revenue sharing. The PA has long seen that as a non-starter, because it can function as a salary cap.
We're not going to get into the weeds here of how a one-time revenue sharing model might or might not work. Suffice to say, it was an aggressive move by MLB to propose an idea that has historically been so sensitive. The union can be forgiven for suspecting that owners were trying to use the pandemic as an excuse to sneak in a long-sought idea.
But the public response by the union and Boras was also aggressive. Now the sides are locked in an argument through the media that resembles every other labor fight. And it is playing out in a year that's like no other.
This is a bad look whenever it happens, but Monday was an especially ugly day for baseball. People are sick and dying, and will have little patience for a labor argument between millionaires and billionaires. The public would be justified to say "play or don't play, just shut up about it."
This negotiation is an unexpected warm-up for the big one, the collective bargaining talks next year that have long been expected to lead to the threat of a work stoppage.
Here's a thought: The sides could use their discussions about 2020 to build trust that hasn't existed in decades. And they could air their differences behind closed doors, rather than inflaming tensions through the media. All of that could be good practice for the CBA talks.
It's not our idea. It's what several prominent player advocates want. This doesn't have to be a war.