Rob Manfred hasn’t made many missteps since taking over as MLB commissioner for the bumbling Bud Selig a couple years ago.
Manfred has been open-minded, available and reasonable, a refreshing change from the previous administration that specialized in obfuscation.
But Manfred made a mistake a few days ago when his office leaked the news that the owners are willing to lock out the players if a new CBA has not been reached by Thursday, when the current collective-bargaining agreement expires.
This is hardly the time to jeopardize 21 years of labor peace, especially when all of the other major sports have endured labor strife and baseball has enjoyed unprecedented growth is every facet of the operation.
Player salaries are soaring, owners profits are climbing, and franchise values skyrocket every time Forbes issues its annual report.
And on top of all that, World Series ratings hit a two-decade high as the world was mesmerized by the Chicago Cubs’ run to their first World Series since Moses was in short pants.
It was the biggest story in the history of the game and for an entire season captivated the sports world.
There can be no more perfect way to kill that buzz than to lock out the players just before the winter meetings, when baseball has a chance to dominate the conversation for the first two weeks of December.
Simply put, it would be the kind of foolish behavior that paralyzed baseball for the better part of two decades, culminating in the lost World Series of 1994.
No one needs to remind Chicago White Sox fans of how painful that was, and no one need tell them that these next couple of weeks are huge for the franchise as they put up for auction their best players in an attempt to rebuild the ballclub and regain a fraction of the sporting attention in Chicago.
So what’s at the heart of the sluggish negotiations?
The players want an end to the draft-pick compensation tied to free agency and the qualifying offer, or at least discontinue the practice of taking away first-round picks from teams active in the free-agent market.
The players will have to give something back in order to make this happen, and that shouldn’t be that difficult if the players really want it.
The owners, on the other hand, want an international draft, or at the very least limitations on international spending, closing loopholes that have allowed smarter teams to circumvent the system.
But most of the issues on which the sides disagree are problems within the ownership group, not disagreement between owners and players, which has been the case in baseball CBA wars dating back decades.
It’s always been that way, big-market teams willing to spend huge dollars to win and small-market teams unwilling to dig deep and demanding concessions from the players, when what they really want are concessions from their wealthy brethren.
The competitive-balance tax is another point of contention. There is disagreement over the amount of the threshold and the penalties for exceeding.
Once again, the fight is really between owners who see the salary structure in different ways, and they should not be asking the players to fix a disagreement between owners.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Yeah, this is a 1990s kind of argument, and it took the disaster of 1994 to make the owners realize the players would not give in, and that they weren’t willing to step into the middle of an ownership disagreement by giving back without getting something significant in return.
One can only hope that Manfred is flexing his muscles. He’s been on the negotiating side of this many times before, often out front for the owners when he was Selig’s top lieutenant.
On the other side, this is the first time players association boss Tony Clark has gone through it, and maybe Manfred is trying to scare the rookie negotiator.
If this is Manfred’s attempt to intimidate Clark, perhaps cooler heads will prevail when negotiations resume Monday.
Baseball has never been healthier and never been more the center of the sports universe with the Cubs completing the dream season.
What the game does not need is the bitter taste of labor acrimony.
Not now. Not ever again.
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