To Our Gullible Customers:
I had hoped against hope that we wouldn’t have to postpone taking your money by canceling games. We created a situation that is bad for you, bad for our players, and bad for our clubs. But we are gambling that this debacle will ultimately lead to more profits for us in the future because, as often as you threaten to leave us, you always come back to us eventually.
I want to assure our customers that our failure to reach an agreement was by design, due to a lack of vision on the part of both parties. We value self-interest over the good of the game so we went on vacation for the better part of three months, then finally met for nine days and tried to make a deal at the last minute before an arbitrary deadline we set to feign effort.
Our committee of Club representatives is committed to breaking the Players union. Therefore, we offered little substantive compromise and wasted everyone’s time because we have no interest in getting a deal done. The previous deal was extremely profitable for us and we’d rather burn the sport to the ground than give up anything to the Players.
So far, we have failed to achieve our goal of shattering the Players’ resolve. The unfortunate thing is that the agreement we have offered has huge benefits for the Owners.
We have tried to destroy the Players Association throughout this process. Dividing and conquering our enemy is paramount. Driving a wedge between younger players and established ones will help us achieve our objective. To that end, we made a disingenuous offer to raise the minimum salary and other trivial items that amount to nothing in an effort to distract everyone from the only real issue — our precious De Facto Salary Cap, otherwise known as the Competitive Balance Tax, otherwise known as the Luxury Tax. But I’ll get to that in a minute…
The proposal also addressed player and customer concerns about issues like service time and competitive issues that we have created ourselves because we care more about money than winning. Baseball would for the first time have a meaningless draft lottery — the least aggressive in professional sports. Also, for the first time ever, we agreed to an incentive system to encourage clubs to promote top prospects to their Opening Day rosters because we need a legal document to force us to actually try to be competitive. We also proposed a laughable plan to use Rookie of the Year voting as a mechanism to stop us from manipulating service time for a grand total of four players.
Free agency should be more robust, but that works against our interests. We begrudgingly agreed to eliminate direct draft pick compensation, a change that should have been made decades ago. On the Competitive Balance Tax, we offered an insignificant increase that doesn’t even match inflation rates, let alone record revenue increases we‘ve seen over the last two decades and are certain to continue even after the temporary minor setback of a global pandemic. Bear in mind that the Competitive Balance Tax is a de facto salary cap without the nuisance of a salary floor or any tie to revenues that would provide mutual interest in promoting the sport and protect some semblance of a level playing field among clubs.
We didn’t want to do it, but an International Draft would more fairly allocate talent among the clubs and reduce our ability to exploit disadvantaged youths and conduct other abusive practices in some, but not all international markets.
We also pandered to our customers with expanded playoffs, promising to bring the excitement of meaningful September baseball and postseason baseball to customers in more of our markets. But what it really means more is profits for us with massive new TV deals. While we preferred a 14-team format for maximum revenues, we caved to the little leverage the players have and accepted their 12-team format, the profits from which will far exceed any revenue lost from canceled April games.
Finally, we offered a procedural agreement that would allow for the timely implementation of sorely needed rules like the pitch timer and elimination of shifts to improve the entertainment value of the game on the field. And we agreed to the universal DH. All of which ultimately benefit us, but we’re acting like we are actually giving something up. Yet another example of not negotiating in good faith.
So, what is next? I have arbitrarily decided we are not going to be able to play the first two series of regular-season games and those games are officially canceled. We are prepared to absorb our customers’ wrath because we believe they will ALWAYS come back, no matter how poorly we treat you or harm the game. We have been informed that the MLBPA is headed back to New York and are using that as an excuse to delay further negotiations despite having easy access to communication technologies like ZOOM or even the telephone. Currently, camps could open on March 8th, leaving 23 days before scheduled Opening Day, ample time to prepare for the season but that doesn‘t work in our interest.
We played without an agreement in 1994 and the Players went on strike in August, forcing the cancellation of the World Series. It was a painful chapter in our game’s history. We probably cannot risk such an outcome again for our customers and our sport, but we’re ready to take that risk. I’m using this as an example to try to explain why we are using the Lockout as a negotiating weapon while simultaneously laying the groundwork to place the blame solely on the Players for potentially losing the entire season if/when events spiral out of our control.
The Clubs and our owners fully understand the revenue from our millions of customers should dictate that we get the game on the field as soon as possible. However, we do not want to give the Players a fair share of your money. To that end, we want to delay for a few more weeks and we want a deal with the Players Association that favors us as much as possible, even if that means doing irreparable harm to the game of baseball.
Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
MLB Owners’ Lawyer