Credit Where It’s Due

Black is white, up is down, cats chase dogs, boy bands play instruments, David Samson and I are going out for a beer, Paris Hilton is judged on merit and Britney Spears on her music.

Why not? I’m about to do the unthinkable (doubtless my editors are thinking: “Write a coherent column that doesn’t involve 16 hours of hard labor by three editors?” Hey, let’s not get crazy here) and pass along some props to Bud Selig.

Anybody who has read my work over the years (hey, there are a lot of sick lonely people out there) knows that Selig isn’t one of my favorite people. Heck, I once wrote it on my blog, after it finally sunk in that the Montreal Expos were standing on the trap door, noose secured behind the left ear and Selig’s hand on the lever.

Of course, he used a short drop commencing in 1994 to ensure that they slowly and painfully strangled before expiring:

“This is what is so purulent about Selig. When he was trying to find a buyer for the Expos, he wasn’t just looking for a buyer. Bill Gates couldn’t purchase the Expos unless the city Gates would have them play in would subsidize the franchise with a publicly financed stadium. Selig was looking first and foremost for a round heeled city. Once one was located, then the search for a group to purchase the team could begin in earnest. It’s not about fan support, it’s about public support. It’s not about the number of fans willing to buy tickets, it’s about the number of corporations willing to lease luxury boxes and club seats. It’s not about the “best interests of baseball” it’s about taking money from schools, libraries, healthcare etc. and giving it to the billionaire parasites he calls friends.

When Bud Selig dies I am going to go to his grave and dig up some worms. I am going to take those worms and go fishing. I am going to take the fish I catch and feed it to my cat. I am going to take the litter out of my cat’s litter box and take it to the dump. Then I am going to check back at the dump in two weeks and look where I dumped the cat litter so I can say that I watched maggots engage in cannibalism.”

Having said that, I have always been a baseball fan first and foremost and a Blue Jays/Expos fan second. While I’m disappointed when my rooting interests are eliminated, it doesn’t take me long to refocus on what’s still happening with the remainder of baseball.

I cheer right to the bitter end of the season and wait eagerly for pitchers and catchers to report.

Which brings me to today’s epiphany.

While Bud Selig has a lot to answer for—such as the cancellation of 1994, the death of the Expos, the steroid era, the raping of communities’ precious resources to enrich the already wealthy at the expense of the poor—one has to give credit where credit is due. With the announcement of a freshly negotiated collective bargaining agreement, Selig has done what just five or six years ago might have seemed impossible: back-to-back labor agreements that didn’t involve a work stoppage, whether a lockout or a strike.

What made this round all the more impressive is that unlike last time, when there was a strike deadline set, there were no ultimatums, lockout threats, angry rhetoric … nothing—it went by so quietly that barely a ripple was made in baseball’s waters.

Adding to the feat is that I honestly feel that the MLB Players Association isn’t nearly as powerful or united as they were 10-15 years ago. I think Don Fehr and Gene Orza’s obsession with seeing how high the salary bar could be pushed—almost to the exclusion of everything else it seemed—splintered and weakened the union.

The entire steroid scandal seemed to show that Fehr and Orza were out of touch with their constituents and let their personal ideologies (read: whatever ownership thinks, we’ll think the opposite) interfere with what a lot of the players wanted.

Marvin Miller’s personal credo was: any position that had less than 100% support of the players was unacceptable. It was obvious that the MLBPA was badly fractured over the steroid issue and its leadership simply didn’t bother to build any kind of consensus within the union on that point. Instead, Fehr and his inner circle seemed to be formulating strategy and hoping that the majority of players would fall into step.

Miller was downright prescient when he wrote in his autobiography that when one side becomes complacent, the other side grows bolder, and that holding your place, marking time, attempting to maintain the status quo was an invitation to be shoved backwards. The MLBPA had been content to do little more than see how high the salary bar could be pushed, while leaving its flank unguarded without trying to build unity within its ranks.

Over this period of time MLB was undergoing major changes: huge salary stratification, an influx of talent from around the globe, etc. With this influx came a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints. Fehr and Orza simply relied on the seeming past power of the union to maintain the status quo and lost sight that the power they had forged under Miller was total unity.

The Pianist and Satchel Paige
A pianist finds inspiration in games from his childhood.

In short, the union was vulnerable.

Selig could’ve taken the opportunity to wring huge concessions from the MLBPA, such as his beloved salary cap, but to his credit did not.

Granted, the huge amounts of money the game is currently swimming in probably played a major factor in his decision to be content with some tweaking of the status quo. It seems both sides have come to the wonderful conclusion that there’s more than enough money for everyone, and that labor peace is an amazing tool for growing a business and making money.

Hopefully, this will become a fact of life in baseball: the era of owners vs. players, the clubs vs. the union, the trial by collectively bargained ordeal, a thing of the past. Make no mistake, the painful three decades that spanned Marvin Miller to the cancellation of the World Series needed to happen so the players could receive their financial due and become full partners in the business. I pray that as time goes by the era from 1966-95 will become little more than an historical curiosity—a period of growing pains within the game that benefited all parties when all was said and done.

So here’s a hearty and very sincere thank you (and a job well done!) to Bud Selig, Don Fehr, club owners and MLBPA members from a hick in the rural regions of Ontario, Canada for their hard work over the last two collective bargaining agreement negotiations. It’s nice to be able to take for granted that from Spring Training to the end of October my baseball smak will be there for all to enjoy.

Someday I’ll do a column praising David Samson too!

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