By Wilbur Miller
Maury Brown, at The Hardball Times, has posted an article examining a subject that owners like Kevin McClatchy and David Glass would probably prefer did not get much public airing: the upcoming collision between revenue sharing and labor talks with the union. The Upcoming CBA. This article is worth reading, because it’s going to have significant implications for the Pirates.
A vital point from the article:
“As I mentioned in Part 1 of this multi-part series, as well as within the 2006 Annual, the real battle coming up in the next round of collective bargaining will be within the ownership ranks, not with the MLBPA. Revenue sharing will be the most contentious issue.”
A related point appears at the end of the article:
“As Bob DuPuy said in the Wall Street Journal article this past week, ‘Clubs accept the structure that we’re in. It’s a matter of refining the structure rather than an all-out assault on the structure.’”
So it’s clear: Dramatic change in the game’s financial structure, which McClatchy has called for as a subterfuge to mask his own incompetence and greed, isn’t going to happen because the owners don’t want it. All that’s really going on now is the owners squabbling over the pie. In case anybody is still clinging to the dearly-held myth of baseball owners being philanthropic sportsmen who happily lose huge sums of money to bring baseball to the masses, this should kill it once and for all. These guys are all doing very well. And the other dearly-held myth of the greedy players’ union ruining the game needs to die, too. The real conflict isn’t even between union and owners any more.
It’s not a conflict that’s likely to go well for welfare queens like McClatchy and Glass, either. McClatchy has put himself in a weak position by violating the letter and spirit of the current CBA, which requires that revenue-sharing money be used to improve the team on the field. The article points out that five teams, including the Pirates, are spending less than $40M of their own money on payroll, and this doesn’t take into account the $20-30M each team gets from central sources such as internet sales and national TV. Bear in mind, too, that McClatchy, in lobbying for a taxpayer-funded ballpark before expanded revenue sharing and the explosion in central revenues, claimed it would allow the Pirates to maintain a competitive payroll, which at the time meant around $60M. The simple fact is that the Pirates are spending only a fraction of what they’re capable of spending on payroll.
According to the article:
“Those clubs that are paying the most into the system are going to be looking for relief, or at the very least, making sure that there is more accountability into where the monies are going ... into player payroll, or possibly into an owner’s pocket.”
It’s going to be pretty hard for McClatchy and the other welfare cheats to argue against this position, especially since the union will actually be aligned with many of the owners on it. How do you take the position that you should be able to pocket money that was intended to help you be more competitive? And how do you argue for a system that actively discourages you from getting better, since increased attendance will mean decreased welfare money? As Jayson Stark pointed out in a recent column, it’s harder to build and maintain a good team than it is simply to cash welfare checks, which creates an incentive to settle for the latter.
Hopefully, the labor negotiations will create a disincentive for people like McClatchy and the Nuttings to own a MLB team. Whether it be reduced revenue sharing or real measures to force the cheats to spend their welfare check the way it was expected they’d spend it, there’d be an incentive to hit the road for owners who can’t or won’t compete with their more sincere and competent counterparts in producing a worthwhile product. That’d be the best thing that could happen to Pirate fans.