Sweeping rule changes are coming to baseball. The first in a two-part series, this explores how and why we got to this point…
Rule changes have been coming to baseball as sure as Mookie Betts or Aaron Judge will one day leave Bryce Harper in the dust with well-earned average annual salaries. But as fans, few of us thought they would come this quickly, in such great scope, and with the collusion of owners and players outside the current bargaining agreement.
It’s a given the players gave away the farm to owners when they signed the current agreement in favor of protecting older and veteran players against the young talent in the league – or so they thought.
Thus, while the players treated themselves, for instance, to a provision that provides for a team chef on all road trips, the owners chuckled, putting high profile free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper through the wringer, leaving mega-rich teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and the Cubs on the sidelines, with slim pickings left for the Padres and Phillies to feast on.
Indentured Servitude Forever
Baseball is the only profession I’m aware of in which it takes six years to be removed from probationary status to a permanent position (the equivalent of free agency). Teachers, in most states, can receive tenure after three years. Three years is also used as a guideline for New York State employees, although permanent status may be grant before then.
This angers players to no end, although the truth is they were being made to sleep in the bed they made for themselves, while owners found their way through other “loopholes” in the agreement by sending players like Kris Bryant (Cubs), Gleyber Torres (Yankees), and now, possibly Pete Alonso (Mets) to the minors at the beginning of the season. With the sole purpose of gaining an extra year of team control before each player reached nirvana – free agency. Thus began a campaign by the players to seek rule changes that level the playing field again.
At the same time, mega-stars like Aaron Judge will patrol the outfield for the Yankees this year receiving a meager salary of $684,300, his final season before reaching three years of arbitration before he is declared a free man by MLB rules. Everybody’s shortstop, Francisco Lindor, will earn $10,550,000 this year with two years of arbitration remaining before his free agency. And Noah Syndergaard, the Mets next Cy Young winner will labor for one-fifth ($6 million) of what Clayton Kershaw, bad back and all will make with the Dodgers.
But, Why Should We Care?
Before we go further, we need to defeat a caveat, which is that nearly all of us can live well enough on the $700k Judge will make this year. This when Duane Johnson is reportedly guaranteed $10 million for his next movie? So why does any of this matter?
It matters because these impediments that are placed in front of young players discourage young athletes from going pro as a baseball player. Today, you can count on both hands the number of blacks in the major leagues – and I didn’t say players of color of which there are many – I said Black Americans Reference Here) Play baseball, wait six years for a payday, toiling and riding buses in the minors along the way – why? – when they can play pro football or basketball achieving an immediate reward.
Rule Changes And The Pendulum Gauging Fairness
It also matters because of the pendulum swinging too far to favor owners in negotiations with players and a side development which has seen young players having to wait forever (six years!) to reach a payday they should have arrived long ago.
This, while veteran players like Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel play their game of hiding and seeking, still hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a team with a need equal to their bank account.
Baseball had come a long way since the days when stars like Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle fought season to season, with no multi-year contracts, to earn one-hundred thousand dollars for one year’s work.
And even further from when Babe Ruth was ridiculed for making the same dollar amount, more than President Herbert Hoover at the time. To which, Ruth had the perfect retort, exclaiming, “I had a better year than he did.”
Moving on further to the trials and challenges Curt Flood faced when he stood up to the point of virtually declaring himself to be amid indentured servitude by the reserve clause that tied him to his team forever.
Fans will recall the next phase in baseball when instead of rule changes, the players took control of the game with the awarding (no knocks to the players who only took what was offered) of fantastic long term deals. This, to the point where many of which teams are still swimming against the tide to be out from under (Albert Pujols – 10-years, $240 million, thru age 41 and Jacoby Ellsbury (7-years, $153 Million, thru age 37).
Rule Changes – A Thaw On The Horizon?
These contracts, onerous on the backend when players age with a corresponding decrease in production, are the reason why owners and general managers, again instead of rule changes, decided to fight back amidst charges of collusion from the Player’s Association.
With drums banging in the background, and a head-on collision between the sides coming when negotiations begin to replace the one expiring in 2021, cooler and smarter heads apparently prevailed.
Thus, the two sides have agreed to a number of rule changes designed to ease the tension, at least for the moment.
Part Two – A Preview
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the agreed upon rule changes as well as the ones which are inevitable and coming soon to a ballpark near you. Are there winners and losers – or is this the result of honest and labor negotiation – where both sides win and lose?
If you have a bit of time for some “homework” before Part 2, here’s a video to get you started: