Tag: Scott Boras

News & Notes: Labor War, Boras’ Email, 64 Hours of Derek Jeter

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Friends, I miss baseball. A lot more than a normal person should, really, but that’s to be expected. I also miss writing about baseball: it’s been several weeks now that I’ve been mostly completely absent. Of course, we all have the pandemic to thank for that. While I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, it’s altered quite a lot of the day-to-day, hence the silence.

In any case, that’s over now. You can expect much more regular posts in this space again, and frankly, I’m very excited about it. A tinge of normalcy will be nice, and writing about baseball has always been cathartic. (And a special thanks to Randy and Matt is in order, as they’ve managed to keep things rolling here. It’s greatly appreciated.) It’s time for a news and notes post.

But first! A fun highlight: 16 years ago today, the great Mariano Rivera earned his 300th career save. It came against Tampa Bay. Here’s the video:

Miss you, Mo. Our man went on to collect 352 more in his illustrious career, which made him baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Famer. Good stuff. Onto today’s relevant news.

A Labor War, What’s It Good For?

Is baseball going to have a season in 2020? That’s the million dollar question these days. I am actually optimistic – if that’s a word you want to use – that there will be a truncated season of some sort. At the same time, though, there are serious complications to that vision, caused by the broken economics of the sport.

No reader of this site is a stranger to the fact that there have been obvious fault lines in baseball’s economics for some time now. Management and labor – using the term “owners and players” obscures that this is a labor issue at heart – have been battling for years now. We’ve all seen it coming and many of us predicted a work stoppage after the CBA expired next year.

Well, the pandemic has exacerbated that underlying labor crisis and accelerated negotiations because now everyone is feeling the squeeze. Randy and Matt have discussed this and more lately on the podcast, so I don’t need to get into it that much more, but there are a few notable updates over the past few days.

First, MLB presented the MLBPA with a new plan to restart the game. It involves another pay cut for the players, who have already agreed to one. It’s steep for the richest players in the game. Here is the pay scale, per Jeff Passan:

Yikes! In Yankee terms, that means Gerrit Cole would make about $9 million this year, not the $36 he signed for. Nobody will feel sorry for these guys, of course, as 41 million Americans file for unemployment (but not the MiLB players who aren’t getting paid!) these days. But it’s understandable that the union will not go for this deal after already accepting a pay cut, especially to it’s most powerful and visible members. For what other purpose would MLBPA even exist if not to push back on this?

And they are pushing back. Via player union official Max Scherzer, the players will not engage with the league any further on this issue. Here is his statement, which, again, can be read on behalf of the entire union:

The union is also now pushing back on the 82-game proposal for a longer season – going back on previously agreed upon terms, just like their management friends. Now that at is what I call an impasse. (And, according to one union lawyer on Twitter, a tactically wise one for MLBPA. Check it out.) I don’t think its an insurmountable hurdle by any means, but these are real challenges to getting the league back up and running.

In these scenarios, I am always, 100% of the time, going to side with the players. I truly believe in the maxim that you can’t privatize the profits and socialize the losses. (Well, you *can*, because, well [gestures widely] but it’s an immoral thing to do.) Besides, management takes the risks here, as they like to say. Sometimes, when you take risks, it blows up in your face. That’s what risk means.

At the same time, this is a weird, unprecedented economy. There is no question that teams will take a haircut and earn less money these days. I’d be more sympathetic, though, if the league as a unit wasn’t already squeezing players (and fans!) for every last penny recently, product be damned. I’d bet the union would be more friendly, too, but what do I know. In other words, a live look at MLB:

Trevor Bauer vs. Scott Boras

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Last night on Twitter – where so much of these negotiations are bearing out – Trevor Bauer blasted Scott Boras for “meddling” in MLBPA affairs. Here’s what he had to say:

At the time, I thought that was puzzling not just because Trevor Bauer is a noted idiot but because Scott Boras’ “personal agenda” aligns with the players’ more than just about any other actor in the baseball universe. Turns out that, indeed, Bauer’s actions are puzzling. Today, the Associated Press got access to some of Boras’ “meddling”, and here’s what it was:

In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Boras wrote that players should not alter terms of the March 26 agreement between MLB and the union that called for players to reduce their salaries to a prorated rate based on a shortened season. MLB on Tuesday proposed a series of tiered reductions that would cause top stars to receive the biggest cuts.

“Remember, games cannot be played without you,” Boras wrote. “Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”

Boras has a undeservingly bad reputation, but it’s impossible to deny that the man has a point here. These are lines the players should be trumpeting from the rooftops, so it’s a bizarre choice by Bauer to slam him, but not altogether unsurprising.

But buried in the email was one more interesting point. Perhaps, in fact, it’s the key point of all this: per Boras, “the owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks.”

It’s an insightful critique and one that gets at the heart of the problem. The league is about much more than just baseball, of course, and that’s the root cause of the labor issues. It’s why salaries have largely stagnated – complex investor groups, complicated land use deals, and other financial arrangements are the language of the game’s books – in recent years and a driver of the labor strife.

These are tangled webs, but I think Boras has the right of it. Owners have made record profits lately. Players should not need to finance their losses now, especially not more than they’ve already agreed to. Again, it’s bizarre for an outspoken player to slam a powerful actor for articulating this stance, but hey, it’s Bauer.

(For a more detailed explanation of the Yankees debt service obligations surrounding the financing of Yankee Stadium, a crucial topic for the team, check out the last answer in this mailbag. I explored it in a bit of detail there.)

Derek Jeter, Ever Heard of Him?

Every non-Yankee fan’s favorite punching bag is back in the spotlight. MLB Network is going to be running 64 (!) consecutive hours of Derek Jeter coverage, beginning tomorrow at 6 am EDT:

That is a crap ton of hours about Derek Jeter and some people are going to get so performatively mad about it. I love it. Jeter, for all his faults, is one of the finest players in league history and a beloved franchise icon – and one of my favorite characteristics of his is to make nearly everyone else mad. You gotta love it.

I’ll probably be tuning in to see some of his many career highlights over that period. Here’s one that never gets old:

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On Scott Boras and Patriotism

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Sports have long held the enviable position of being one of the few industries in America to seamlessly mix business with politics. Making this feat all the more impressive is the professional sports leagues gleefully flaunting this relationship so publicly without much pushback. There are American flags proudly sitting atop the stadiums. We stand for the national anthem. Some stand again in the same game for God Bless America. There are Memorial Day and Fourth of July fitted caps readily available at our favorite sporting gear stores and websites. And we’re constantly reminded of how sports have saved the collective American psyche time and time again. All of this happens without much pushback from the same people who can’t have a respectful conversation with anyone who holds a political viewpoint that is minimally different from their own.

These tenuous claims of patriotism from American professional sports leagues may be the best marketing campaign in this country’s history. It is a foolproof approach. What is more effective than equating the consumption of sports with civic duty especially in the midst of our country’s greatest challenges? In many ways, the appeal to patriotic identity serves as a “break glass in times of emergency” safety net. It stands as a tried and true call to action to bring back “normalcy” during the worst of times including a devastating global pandemic. The frame of patriotism allows those that stand the most to gain from a hasty reopening of professional sports a cover for their true intentions. It allows the powers that be to move in silence when necessary. And this is where we find Scott Boras.

In his New York Times opinion piece, Boras tugs at our red, white, and blue heartstrings. He refers to the call from FDR to Commissioner Landis to start the games up to lift the spirits of not only American citizens but the brave soldiers fighting in World War 2. Boras then recounts the crucial role baseball played in consoling the country after 9/11. The Mike Piazza home run against the Braves is an incredible moment in baseball history. George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch was an incredible show of strength for many. To be clear, these moments are important. Sports are an important part of the collective national identity. They are real-time events that can beautifully capture the spirit of our country. But the framing of the relationship between sports and national pride isn’t solely based on a virtuous commitment to identity.

It is also important to point out that these moments are all in response to geopolitical tragedies and not a biological catastrophe. Life isn’t currently at a standstill because of war or a heinous act of terrorism. Many of us remained largely confined to our homes because of a deadly virus. The conflict isn’t defined by geographical borders or opposing political philosophies. The virus isn’t overseeing test missile launches or imposing tariffs. It is silently ravaging communities, nursing homes, hospitals, school systems, employment, and basic social interactions with absolutely no regard for who it inhabits. COVID doesn’t care for nation-states and their silly squabbles.

And this is where Boras’ appeal to our patriotic spirit falls woefully short. Sure, some folks will use the fighting American spirit to boost the morale of those around them. That is more than fine. It is a totally different matter to compromise the health of thousands of people in the name of entertainment or national identity. One can make the case that entertainment is an essential business, but that would take a pretty significant leap in logic to arrive at that conclusion. Unfortunately, many places in our country aren’t in a position to protect their citizens well enough to give any certainty that another outbreak is limited. America hasn’t handled this as well as South Korea or Taiwan, two countries that were able to start their baseball seasons. So why resort to using a rallying cry that is more appropriate when humans are in conflict with other humans? Scott Boras answers this question:

However, we face a challenge in the coming weeks and months: How do we harmonize the concerns of health experts with the unwanted effects of those public health efforts? Experts believe we need isolation and social distancing, but that has led to lost jobs, increased stresses of every type and a diminishing of the social tapestry that binds and enhances our lives. After many weeks of following safer-at-home protocols, people are understandably restless and looking for an outlet.

Scott Boras

Brazenly flying in the face of medical experts feels like an expected response. Despite isolation and social distancing saving thousands upon thousands of lives, these measures are immediately minimized through the economic lens. Yes, the financial impact is devastating. As a freelance filmmaker who depends on the gig economy, this is a terrible experience. But everyone’s health is paramount at the moment. We should never lose sight of that. So, why do people like Boras choose to do so?

Simply put, it is more important for the power brokers of the game to restore their influence and gain. There is an emerging belief in certain sectors of the country that some people losing their lives so the economy can start up again is a sacrifice worth making. So the power brokers weaponize the lore of Americana to inspire many to take a significant health risk. Boras is manipulating the idea of the perceived American identity to benefit from that very narrative. We need baseball because he needs baseball. He doesn’t need it as a respite from death and destruction. He needs it to gain a semblance of power that the virus has neutered. His influence is severely limited if his industry is offline. His last gasp efforts are opinion pieces in the New York Times in an attempt to regain his bully pulpit.

Boras is like many other men in positions of power during the pandemic. They can’t see the trees for the forest because the details don’t really matter. What matters in their minds is returning to “business as usual” as soon as possible even if comes at the cost of more American lives. Unfortunately, this mindset is a core tenet of America’s true identity. One core belief is ensuring profit margins reign supreme in the face of any human crisis whether it’s enslavement, world wars, terrorism, or pandemics. And yes, this approach is within the rules of the economic game. In a vacuum, there isn’t anything wrong with trying to rekindle business. But we don’t live in a vacuum despite some wanting to apply that caveat when appropriate.

There hasn’t been a moment during this lockdown when I’ve been more confident that baseball will return than now. The steward of baseball economics has spoken. Baseball will make its return this year. It’s the American way.

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