By Tony Hooker
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.” One hundred years ago this September, Chicago Daily News writer Charley Owens penned a touching column after “Shoeless” Joe Jackson admitted that he had agreed with seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates to fix the 1919 world series. Jackson, who earned his eternal sobriquet in 1908, when he played a game in his socks after a new pair of cleats wore blisters, was subsequently banned for life, even though he hit .375 and was perfect in the field during the series, leading many to believe that he hadn’t actually joined the conspiracy. The incident left a lasting black eye on the sport that will never be fully forgotten.
Fast forward to 2020, the weirdest year ever, and I wonder what ole’ Charley would write if he saw what was happening in baseball.
In what could prove to be the most tone-deaf dispute in the history of a sport that is rife with tone-deaf disputes, the MLB players and owners can’t seem to find agreement about how pay will work out for any sort of season that is played.
In a nutshell, the owners claim that they will lose billions if the games are played in empty stadiums and want the players to take pay cuts to try to mitigate the damage. Basically, the owners, who made tens of billions in profits for years, want their employees to take the majority of the hit for the one season they might face a loss. The players, unsurprisingly, aren’t willing to do it.
In March, the players and owners came to an agreement on a prorated salary plan that would pay based on the number of games the teams played, and because of labor laws, the players are unwilling to even discuss a new agreement lest the March document become unenforceable.
Also, because of the prorated nature of the existing agreement, the MLBPA wants to play as many games as possible, thus ensuring that the players make as much as possible. Of course, during a time when national unemployment rates are approaching record levels, I doubt they’ll find much sympathy amongst fans when players like Mike Trout stand to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $220,000 per game in 2020. In 2018, the average big-league salary was S4,095,000, which translates to a smooth $ 22,500 per game. For those poor (irony intended) saps making the major league minimum of $563,500, they stand to make a paltry $3100 per day. Plus per diem. Yep, millionaire ball players get meal money. Man I wish I could have hit a curve.
Of course, the owners won’t have to have a yard sale or stand on a corner with a coffee can, as they would have you believe. In 2019, the New York Yankees brought in a smooth $683 million. The Cubs, $471 million, and the Cardinals, $383 million, per statistica.com. In other words the owners, who all made their billions in other businesses that they still are active in, for the most part, can stand to take a one year hit. The owners, for their part, want a shorter regular season so that the playoffs and world series, real money makers, generally, can be played before the chances of a COVID-19 recharge become more likely with the return of cooler weather.
Other issues still being worked out, include provisions for the health and safety of the players. Interestingly, things as minute as each pitcher being required to have his own rosin bag have entered the discussion.
So, say it ain’t so. Say that MLB, which has image issues and is losing ground with a good deal of today’s youth, isn’t going to continue to kill the geese that lays the golden eggs, like they’ve tried to do for much of the past three decades. Say that they will not squander an opportunity to bring a desperately needed distraction to a country on the edge of chaos. I remain hopeful. If they cancel this season because of argument’s over who’s stacks are fatter, it will be like we’re all wearing cleats that cause blisters.