What started as a necessary shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has developed into a full-blown baseball labor war. MLB and the MLBPA are currently bickering over player compensation for the 2020 season, which still has not been scheduled. A July 4 Opening Day almost certainly will not happen,.
Among the many proposals MLB has put on the table was a revenue-sharing system in which the league and the players would split revenue 50-50 this season. The MLBPA shot that down immediately, with executive director Tony Clark calling it a "salary cap, period." The union has always resisted a salary cap and that's not about to change.
On Tuesday, Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick appeared on the Doug & Wolf Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, and said current labor relations would be much better with a revenue-sharing system and salary cap). Here's what Kendrick said:
"Why is it that we are the only sport that doesn't have revenue sharing? All of the other major sports have revenue sharing," Kendrick said Tuesday after calling in to Doug & Wolf on Arizona Sports. "What would be happening right now — think about it — if this situation would have evolved and we had been in a revenue-sharing model? We would be acting as partners to get back together and get back on the field. The very lack of a revenue-sharing model puts us in an adversarial position when we really ought to be partners and advancing the game and building the revenues because all would win in those circumstances.
"Our (players) union leadership takes the position that's a non-starter," Kendrick added. "We wouldn't even be in a discussion right now if we had revenue sharing. It's sad."
Kendrick later says an uncapped system leads to "very few players making even more money, frankly at expense of their brothers," which sure seems like the classic union-busting tactic of pitting the highest-paid members against the lowest. MLB tried exactly that with a sliding salary scale proposal last month.
The NBA, NFL, and NHL all have a revenue sharing system and a salary cap. NFL players receive 48 percent of league revenues, NBA players received 49-51 percent, and NHL players receive 50 percent. Those leagues have all had a work stoppage in the last decade. MLB's last work stoppage was in 1994-95.
It's unclear exactly what percent of revenue goes to MLB players -- Maury Brown of Forbes estimated it at 48.5 percent last year -- because owners are really good at hiding money. We don't know how much they're making through broadcasting deals and non-baseball endeavors, like the team-owned Ballpark Village in St. Louis.
Kendrick calls it a "falsehood that continues to be perpetrated" that MLB teams make significant money the MLBPA doesn't know about. Maybe that's true. We have no way of knowing because MLB teams haven't opened their books, which is their right as private businesses. Until that happens though, any claims about revenue should be met with skepticism.
The MLBPA has steadfastly refused to accept a salary cap and there's no reason to believe that will change anytime soon, pandemic or no pandemic. That is also a battle for another day. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and that's when talks to overhaul the sport's economic landscape will take place.
For now, the players simply want to be paid for the games they play in 2020. That's all. They want to play as much as possible and receive prorated pay. MLB is seeking another salary reduction, however, and the two sides have no made any progress toward a deal.