Tribe Journal: July 19, 2020

Last Night’s Recap

Box Score

Zach Plesac made a strong case for starting the season in the rotation last night, as he allowed two runs in five innings. His first four innings were strong, but he got hit harder in his final inning. It didn’t help him that Domingo Santana couldn’t pull a ball in that was hit deep to left field in that inning; the play was ruled a double, but should have been merely a loud out. Plesac would give up a single to the next batter, and two runs scored. Francisco Lindor then made a spectacular play to turn what should have been a single up the middle to a force out at second base; he dove past second base to glove the ball, then tossed the ball with his glove to Cesar Hernandez to get the force play; the relay to first base was late. Another hard-hit ball was speared by Carlos Santana, who threw to second to get the lead runner. The inning concluded with a strikeout.

Plesac’s fastball sat around 92-93 mph during his outing, and until the fifth his ball had good movement. His pickoff move was in regular-season form, as he easily picked off Colin Moran in the fourth inning.

After the fifth, both teams made wholesale substitutions, so it resembled a early Spring Training game. Oliver Perez gave up a run in his inning of work, giving up a double that bounce off the center field wall to a right-hander Josh Bell, then striking out left-hander Colin Moran, then later giving up an RBI single to former Tribesman (right-handed hitter) Erik Gonzalez.

The rest of the Indians bullpen kept the Pirates off the board the rest of the way. Dominic Leone, Cam Hill, and Phil Maton, all of whom are fighting for bullpen jobs, each threw a scoreless inning. The Tribe scored five runs over their final two at-bats, with Christian Arroyo and Yu Chang, both in competition for bench spots driving in runs. Daniel Johnson and Greg Allen, outfielders who are in the mix for major-league jobs, both got hits in the ninth inning.

News

The Indians have sent Jefry Rodriguez to minor-league camp (Lake County). He hadn’t been able to rehab a back injury suffered in March thanks to the COVID , and so wasn’t ready to go once camp resumed in July and hadn’t appeared in any intrasquad game. Rodriguez’s reassignment leaves 37 players competing for 30 Opening Day spots.

Link to live roster/transactions on OneDrive

Next Up

Sunday: Intrasquad game at Progressive Field

Monday: Exhibition Game vs. Pirates at Progressive Field, 7:05 PM

Tribe makes roster updates, play their first summer exhibition tonight in Pittsburgh

Nothing earth-shattering has happened in camp thus far, which is a good thing. The season begins in less than a week, so the team has begun to pare down the number of players in its major-league camp (Cleveland).

First to be re-assigned to Lake County was Anthony Gose, whose high-90s fastball I think will help the team at some point, but hasn’t been effective in intra-squad games the few times he’s pitched. He’ll get more regular reps in minor-league camp.

Yesterday, the Indians sent two more players to minor-league camp, and notified a third that he’d begin the season in Lake County. Left-handed pitchers Logan Allen and Scott Moss, both of whom were competing for a spot in the rotation or in long-relief, were re-assigned, and utility man Jake Elmore will follow them before this Friday’s season opener.

That still leaves 37 players in major-league camp still competing for 30 spots, including Delino DeShields, who has been placed on the 10-day Injured List, and Jordan Luplow, who might need to start the season on the IL. All of the starting position player spots and 4 out of the 5 rotation spots are locked down, but that still plenty of competition for bench spots (especially with DeShields and Luplow sidelined), as well as the bullpen, which will perhaps be 10 strong on Opening Day.

Here’s my best guess as to what the Opening Day 30-man roster will look like, with two exceptions (and I’ll explain below).

Link to live roster/transactions on OneDrive

My two exceptions:

  1. Greg Allen will replace Jordan Luplow on the 30-man roster, as Luplow will not have had enough reps before the season begins.
  2. Cam Hill will be added to the 40-man roster before the season and will be final pitcher added to the bullpen.

I’m not sure if the Indians will use Adam Plutko as a starter (which would create a 6-man rotation) or used as a long-man in the bullpen. Regardless, I think he’ll get nearly as many innings, when they be as a starter or in relief, as the pitchers in the rotation.

Next Game

Tonight the Indians play their first exhibition game of the summer, as they will travel via bus to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates tonight at 7:05 PM. The game will be televised on MLB.tv (I hope it isn’t blacked out in the Cleveland market – fingers crossed) as well as MLB Network, and should be broadcast on many of the stations on the Indians Radio Network. Zach Plesac, who is competing with Adam Plutko for a rotation spot, will get the start.

MLB now offering partial refunds for MLB.TV subscriptions

MLB.TV is the out-of-market online streaming service for MLB baseball. I unfortunately live in the Cleveland market, so I don’t get to watch Indians games live, but it’s a better deal for me than having to fork over $50 a month to buy a TV package that includes STO, as I don’t really watch anything other than Tribe baseball anymore.

Early in March, I was charged $129.99 for the service (I purchase the league pass, because I’m a baseball junky), and as the COVID-related delay continued, a big open question for me was whether subscribers who had already been charged would get any kind of refund if/when the season began again, and if so, how much it would be.

Thankfully, I have good news. I received this e-mail today:

The price per game did go from $.80/game originally versus $1.33/game now, assuming you watched the equivalent of one team’s full season. However, that new price ($45.18) is about $15 cheaper than if you had waited to purchase a subscription until today ($59.99).

Granted, they’ve hung onto my money for over four months, so I was owed some interest, but even so, it’s nice to see. The refund was done via a website, and took about 10 seconds to submit, so there’s no runaround trying to get a customer service rep on the phone. Now, if they really want to get on my good side, MLB could figure out a way to offer live in-market games to fans….

2020 schedule to be released today

And now, back to baseball.

At 6 PM today, MLB will be releasing the new 2020 schedule. This year especially, the schedule will be crucial because there will be so few games and also because games played earlier in the season are not going to be played with teams at full strength (especially pitchers). The season will begin for most teams on July 24, which is less than 3 weeks away.

To limit travel, all 60 games will be played within the geographical region of the team. For instance, the Indians will only play the other teams in the AL Central and all the teams in the NL Central. 40 of the games will be against the other 4 AL teams (10 games against each) and 20 against the NL Central teams, 6 of which will be against the Reds Pirates, leaving 14 to be divided among the other 4 teams (likely 2 teams @ 3 games and 2 teams @ 4 games).

That imbalance in the NL portion of the schedule could prove to be crucial if there are any major disparities between, for instance, the Reds and Brewers, or the Reds and Cubs. Most MLB teams end up winning between 40% and 60% of their games, as opposed to most other leagues. But because MLB’s regular season is so long, even a couple % points in winning percentage will turn into a several game difference by the time September rolls around. But not this year.

To give an example, last year the Minnesota Twins won the AL Central by 8 games, with a .049 difference in winning percentage. If those two teams end up with the same winning percentage this year, the Twins would win the division by just 3 games (37 wins vs. 34). So I would anticipate most divisions not being clinched until the last series of the season.

TeamWin %2019 Wins2020 Wins
Minnesota.62310137
Cleveland.5749334
Chicago.4477227

I’ll update this post once the schedules are released.

UPDATE: Well, I was wrong. The Indians will not be playing the Reds 6 times, but instead will play the Pirates(!) 6 times (they play the Reds 4 times). That’s a nice advantage for the Indians. Here’s the complete schedule:

DatesOpponentGames
July 24-26Kansas City3
July 27-29Chicago White Sox3
July 30-Aug 2@Minnesota4
Aug 3-4@Cincinnati2
Aug 5-6Cincinnati2
Aug 7-9@Chicago White Sox3
Aug 11-12Chicago Cubs2
Aug 14-16@Detroit3
Aug 18-20@Pittsburgh3
Aug 21-23Detroit3
Aug 24-26Minnesota3
Aug 28-30@St. Louis3
Aug 31-Sep 2@Kansas City3
Sep 4-6Milwaukee3
Sep 7-10Kansas City4
Sep 11-13@Minnesota3
Sep 15-16@Chicago Cubs2
Sep 17-20@Detroit4
Sep 21-24Chicago White Sox4
Sep 25-27Pittsburgh3

What’s in a name

Friday the Cleveland Indians released a statement regarding the team name:

We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality. Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community.

We have had ongoing discussion organizationally on these issues. The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice.

With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.

While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team.

The big takeaways I got from the statement are:

  • The organization had been discussing the possibility of a name change internally even before the events of the past months. They probably have been taking place since at least the decision to remove Chief Wahoo in 2018.
  • However, because of the recent social unrest, the team is now making public this fact, and is eliciting feedback from the fan base and other relevant groups on the future of the team name.

Undoubtedly this is a reaction to the Washington Redskins announcing that they would “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name” earlier in the day. In today’s fast-moving, social media-dominated culture, they didn’t want to be the last team with an American Indian-themed name to make a statement.

Commentary

I want to approach this section by asking and then answering questions based on arguments that I’ve seen made in response to this news that cuts to the heart of the controversy. Feel free to use these questions to come to your own conclusions, or perhaps to even modify your existing ones.

Question 1: Is the name Indians objectionable to those it describes?

To answer the question, I want to look at how the name was used in the past, and how it is used today. Meanings of words and symbols change over time, and even those who live in the same era will interpret them differently. Because the name is of a group of people, it is also important to understand what they call themselves.

The name Indians was coined at the time that Europeans reached the Americas. Early explorers, starting with Columbus, mistook the peoples they found in there for Indians because they thought they had landed in the East Indies. In fact, Columbus had underestimated the size of the planet, and had arrived at a completely different continent. Even so, the name stuck, and only in recent years has it been challenged. Before Europeans arrived, there was no agreed-upon name to describe the native peoples of the land that eventually became the United States, and so while the name may be both inaccurate and confusing (especially to those native to the country of India), it’s still in common use today in the United States, by both the American government (Bureau of Indian Affairs, to use one example) and the native peoples themselves.

This video by CPG Grey goes into more detail on the naming convention, based on interviews he conducted at many American Indian reservations.

In the future, we might use a different name (“Native Americans” is the current challenger, though it has its own problems, as mentioned in the above video), but right now “American Indians” or “Indians” is the most commonly-used term by both outsiders and the people it describes.

So on that basis, it is difficult to call the name itself objectionable to American Indians or to the overall population of this country. The Washington Redskins fail question #1, but the Cleveland Indians do not.

Question 2a: Is the name unacceptable because it was associated with the Chief Wahoo logo for a large portion of the team’s history?

Now we are passing from the the land of objective definitions to the realm of opinion.

Chief Wahoo was the team’s primary logo from 1947 to 2019, while the team has been named the Indians since 1915. That’s 72 out of the 105 years the team has been known as the Indians. In my opinion the logo, being a caricature (and not a benign one) of an American Indian, was objectionable, and was glad that the team at first de-emphasized it, then later removed it entirely. However I do not think that the team name and logo are inextricably linked. The franchise had Indian-themed logos in the decades before Chief Wahoo that were not caricatures. Theoretically they could come up with an Indian-centric logo again, perhaps with consultation from American Indian groups, which would alleviate some of the criticisms, but not all of them.

Question 2b: Should (or could) the Indians maintain the name without an Indian-themed logo?

This is a more practical question.

Since dropping Chief Wahoo, the team has defaulted to using the “block C” as their primary logo, which is a callback to the early days of their franchise, an era in which teams generally used a stylized letter or letters (using the first letter(s) of their home city) as their logo. Some franchises never went away from this type of logo; the Detroit Tigers have used the “Olde English D” as one of their primary logos since practically the beginning. Many other clubs, even if their logos are different, have stuck with simple letters on their caps, and as such those letters (NY for New York, B for Boston, LA for Los Angeles, etc), while simple, are nonetheless recognizable because they’ve been associated with the team for in some cases over a century. So it’s possible for the Indians to remain the Indians if they just emphasize the “Cleveland” part of their name, but that might the worst of both worlds for the team, in that one portion of your fanbase dislikes the name, and another dislikes the logo (the “block C” has gotten at best mixed acceptance by fans, even by those that didn’t like Chief Wahoo).

Question 3a: Is the team name objectionable because American Indians were conquered, then mistreated by first by the European empires and later by the United States, and because this name is being used by an American organization?

The usage of names and depictions of other peoples, especially those that have been wronged in the past, have become moral issues, as the usage of names and artwork depicting those people is being seen as a continuation of that wrong. If we can’t go back in time to change history, the argument goes, the least we can do is to distance ourselves from that past, and that means removing any depiction of a wronged group of people, no matter how neutral it might be and under what context that depiction is made.

I think this is an overly broad argument (though I have seen it being made) that leads to many downstream consequences that even its proponents might not want to see realized (such as the renaming of American states), so rather than trying to turn it into a straw man, let me strengthen it:

Question 3b: Is the team name objectionable because the American Indians were conquered, then mistreated by first by the European empires and later by the United States, and because this name is being used as a brand name by an American company?

This is the essence of the best argument I’ve seen in favor of the team changing its name, and brings into the discussion the context in which the name is used, something that can serve as a limiting principle (otherwise there is no foreseeable end to what is objectionable given how many of our words and place names derive from American Indian tribes and languages).

This is an argument I have sympathy for, though it’s a tepid sympathy. Brand names should be almost universally viewed as positive, if not inoffensive, otherwise a business is potentially alienating customers by using it. The bar is going to be (and should be) lower to change a brand name than it would be if we were talking about removing a word from common usage or changing the name of state or a city. If there’s enough of the fan base that wants a name change, then the business should at least seriously discuss it.

That said, I would be interested in learning what the American Indian people think about the team name before making any final decision. Is it seen as positive, negative, or ambivalent? Do they feel strongly about the name either way?

Question 4: Under what circumstances (if any) would you approve of the team keeping its name?

Consulting American Indians and the team’s fan base would help determine not only what objections there are to the team name, but also determine if there is a way to keep the name. Perhaps honoring the history of American Indians and raising awareness of the obstacles that many still face today would do more good than changing the name would.


Thank you for sticking around this long. I hope the question-and-answer format helps you as much as it did me when thinking through this contentious and complex topic. If you’re looking for “on-field baseball” content, I’m planning on returning to that on a semi-regular basis as summer training heats up, along with the other subjects I’ve been dabbling in.

Indians set 60-man pool at 55

Yesterday was the deadline for teams to set their pool of players for the 2020 season. The 60-man pool is supposed to represent the entire pool of players in the organization a club could conceivably use during this season, though many clubs (including the Indians) are adding lower-level prospects that they want to work with this summer. During a normal season, teams will have a 40-man roster, but they’ll substitute in many players that weren’t originally included as the need arises.

Who makes up the 60-man pool? Anyone who is on the 40-man roster is automatically on the 60-man pool, and the remainder will be made up of players signed to minor-league contracts, most of whom would be playing at the AAA or AA levels had there been a minor-league season. Once the MLB season begins, those on the Tribe’s 60-man pool who don’t make the MLB roster (30 players to begin the season, then gradually reduced to 26) or are on a 3-man taxi squad (used only on road trips) will work out in Lake County (Cleveland’s “Alternate Training Site”) until needed by the big league club. During the summer training period, two sites will be used, with the Progressive Field approximating major-league camp and Classic Park in Lake County approximating minor-league camp.

Keep in mind if a player is on the 60-man pool but not on the 40-man roster, the Indians would have to remove a player from their 40-man (via Designation for Assignment) to add that player, just like normal. Teams can also add and subtract players to the 60-man pool whether via trades or signings. Teams can only trade players who are on their 60-man pool.

With all that said, here’s what the projected roster looks like right now. For the purposes of this exercise, I assumed a 26-man major-league roster, even though there will be 4 additional players on the roster to begin the season. For those that aren’t projected to make the 26-man roster, I’ve indicated where they have been assigned to work out (either Progressive Field in Cleveland or Classic Field in Lake County).

View roster spreadsheet

The Indians can add 5 more players, whether that be from other minor-leaguers in the organization, free agents, or via trade. I do not think the Indians are required to have a full 60-man pool, so they could start the season with fewer than 60 players if they wanted to.

Sources:

Tribe announces player pool: 5 spots open (indians.com)

FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020 (MLB.com)

Here’s the Indians’ 60-man roster for 2020 (and how they might use it) – (The Athletic – subscription required)

Overview of 2020 MLB rule changes

Here’s an overview of the rule changes added specifically to deal with the COVID pandemic and the shortened 2020 season. In addition to these, there are a number of rules designed to limit physical contact (such as no fighting, no getting close to umpires, etc), but I’m only listing changes affecting gameplay, schedules, and rosters.

In-game changes

Universal DH. This means all games, including those between National League teams, will have the DH. This is supposed to be temporary, with the National League reverting back to no DH in 2021.

Extra Innings – runner on second to start each inning. The runner would be the player that made the last out in the previous inning.

Position players will be allowed to pitch. A rule that was supposed to virtually eliminate this was supposed to take effect this year, but will not be implemented until next year. This is to protect pitchers who may yet be fully stretched out for the season.

If a game is suspended due to rain before it is official (before the top of the 5th is completed), when it is made up it will resume from where it was suspended rather than started from scratch.

Schedule

The MLB season will be 60 games, starting July 23-24. The end of the season remains September 27, and the postseason format will not change (for now).

The Tribe’s schedule will consist of 40 games against AL Central teams (10 each), 20 against NL Central teams (6 of which will be against the rival Cincinnati Reds). The official schedule should be released in the next couple of days.

The games are scheduled to take place in the normal home stadiums without fans, though that is subject to change based on local conditions. For example, a team whose home city/state has issued restrictions may have to play on the road or at a neutral site.

Rosters/Transactions

60-man roster. Teams have to submit a roster of 60 eligible players by Sunday, June 28. This will include the current 40-man roster plus 20 minor-leaguers. This is cover for injuries or players who contract the virus. Any player not on the MLB roster will train at a nearby minor-league facility (likely Lake County), as there will be no minor-league season. Teams can only trade players that are on their 60-man roster, so that limits the types of deals that can be made during the season.

Major-league roster will be 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, then the normal 26 for the remainder of the season. This is to compensate for a short Spring Summer Training. There will no limit to the number of pitchers allowed on the MLB roster.

The trade deadline is now August 31, and the postseason roster deadline is now September 15.

Injured List is 10 days for all players (was 15 days for pitchers). The 60-day Injured List is now 45 days. There will also be a special COVID List for players that either test positive or have a confirmed exposure; teams will not be able to activate a player who tests positive until he tests negative twice.

Sources:

Rosenthal: Blockbuster trades are less likely; Schedule complaints; scramble for jobs (The Athletic – subscription)

FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020 (MLB.com)

FAQ: All you need to know about the 2020 season (MLB.com)

With no agreement, the 2020 MLB season is announced

What a waste of time. Instead of the 2020 MLB season beginning in early July, with almost no competing sports, it is now set to begin on July 23 or 24, when it will be directly competing with several other sports.

The more aggravating aspect of this delay is that it did nothing to smooth over the underlying labor dispute. When it became apparent that no fans would be allowed into stadiums when the season did begin, the owners and players were at odds over how long the season would be because the two sides had earlier agreed that the players would be paid on a per-game basis. The owners now wanted as short a season as possible, as they would be losing money for every game they played, while the players would be losing money for every game they didn’t play.

So, you might be thinking, the owners actually won this battle by delaying the start of the season. No, because the players are undoubtedly going to file a grievance to get back the money they would have made had the season started on time. The grievance will work its way through the laborious legal process in parallel to games being played, and won’t be resolved for months, even years. The potential of losing the grievance (and having to pay hundreds of millions as a result) is going to hang over the owners in the meantime. That’s why one of their key demands in a settlement was the players agreeing not to file a grievance.

The players, meanwhile, are only going to get 60 game checks instead of 82, and although they could possibly get more if they win their grievance, aren’t going to get some of the benefits they would have got had they signed an agreement, such as a higher share of playoff revenue (plus an expanded playoff), and a universal DH through 2021 (which would effectively make it permanent).

What makes this non-agreement even worse is that this was a chance to repair some hurt feelings, and perhaps make a future work stoppage less likely. Because the entire if going to lose billions of dollars, this coming offseason is going to be brutal to any free agent, as there are likely going to be a record number of non-tenders flooding the market. That will make the relationship between players and owners even worse, and then of course the CBA expires after the end of 2021 season. If a strike or lockout affects the 2022 season, then even more financial and reputational damage will be done to the sport.

Meanwhile, fans will have been without baseball for four months by the time the regular season begins, and with nothing gained; no labor peace and no financial stability. I fully expect many teams, including the Indians, to dump players after this season as possible in an attempt to cut costs. And if there are as many teams doing that as I think there will be, they’ll be trading for pennies on the dollar.But before that horrible scenario plays out, the Indians are going to have as good a shot of any team of winning the World Series. I say that because their revised 60-game schedule will be played solely among AL and NL Central teams, meaning that the Indians will have one of the easiest schedules in baseball.:

MLB has submitted a 60-game regular-season schedule for review by the Players Association. In order to mitigate travel, the schedule would include 10 games for each team against its four divisional opponents, along with 20 games against the opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (for example, the AL East will play the NL East, and so on).

There’s all kinds of other changes because of the shortened season, which I’ll go over next time.

Just figure it out, players and owners

(For transparency: where my interests lie.)

Seven weeks after what should have been the beginning of the 2020 MLB season, there is now a reasonably detailed road map for to play a shortened version of it.

The plan right now is to have shortened spring training starting in June, leading up to the season starting in early July. The games would be played without fans (at least to begin with), and could be played either in the home stadiums, or if that can’t work because of local restrictions, then in neutral locations. The season is tentatively set at 82 games, though that too could change. Teams would only be playing teams in their division and the teams in the other league that correspond geographically. For instance, the Indians would play their AL Central rivals and the teams in the NL Central. At the end of the season would be an expanded playoffs, with the goal of ending at the normal time (late October/early November).

All of this is dependent on a couple things. First, that effective precautions can be put in place to minimize risk to the players, coaches, and other people who are necessary to put on the games. And second, that an agreement be reached between the players and the owners to split a smaller revenue pie that will be made even smaller if teams can’t sell tickets.

The first stipulation should not be contentious. Neither the owners nor the players want an outbreak to happen within a clubhouse, and judging by the details (The Athletic, $) that have reached the public, these concerns seem to have been taken seriously. Testing would be done often, using “the least invasive and fastest methods commercially available without adversely impacting public health needs,” temperatures would be taken twice daily, and family members would also have access to testing, etc. An almost comical set of guidelines would also preclude close contact off the field, including no fist-bumping, no showers, and no spitting (just to name a few). Thankfully, there are very few instances during play in which two or more people are close to each other (catcher/hitter/umpire, first baseman/runner) so little if anything will change to how the game itself is played. The only outstanding issue regarding player safety I see coming up is how at-risk players would be handled financially if they didn’t want to play, and who could be considered at-risk. But I don’t think that would sink an agreement.

The second stipulation is more intractable. The owners and players came to an agreement in late March, shortly after Spring Training was cut short, in which the players would be paid based on the number of games played in 2020, and if there were no games played at all, they would be paid a total of $170M. In return, all players on the major-league roster would receive a full year of service time regardless of what would happen. In other words, if the season is 82 games, all players would be paid roughly half of their original salary, but if they were a year away from free agency, they would be eligible for it at the end of the season.

However, because in most of the country bans on mass gatherings remain and are likely to continue for a while, that means teams will be without a significant portion of their revenue if games are played without fans. And so the owners have made another proposal to the players to pay them 50% of the total revenue made during the shortened season rather than 50% of their original contracts. This is a non-starter to the players, who view any attempt to base salaries on revenue as tantamount to a salary cap. MLBPA president Tony Clark said this back in April, when the issue was first brought up:

“Players recently reached an agreement with Major League Baseball that outlines economic terms for resumption of play, which included significant salary adjustments and a number of other compromises. That negotiation is over,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement Monday.

As Jeff Passan reports, there is a clause in the March 2020 agreement that can be interpreted as requiring a separate negotiation in case the games could not be played in front of fans or had to be played in neutral locations:

That said, on Page 1 of the agreement, the first point of the Resumption of Play section includes the words: "(T)he 2020 championship season shall not be commenced unless and until each of the following conditions is satisfied." One of those conditions ends with: "(T)he Office of the Commissioner and Players Association will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites."

However that interpretation is not shared by the MLBPA, who feels that financial negotiations were completed in March, and so you have this standoff. That we’re even getting the details of these arguments (including a detailed accounting of how much each club is projected to lose if games are played in empty stadiums) is an indication of how far apart the owners and players are on this point. Now the negotiations will be held both in conference rooms and in the public, and both sides are hoping to garner enough public support to improve their negotiating position.


Given all this, I think it is crucial to understand the current sports media environment. Various media outlets and commentators are going to ramp up the rhetoric even more than usual in this now public financial negotiation, because unlike in previous negotiations, in which the two sides were divvying up a consistently growing pie of revenue, this time they will be fighting over a smaller pie. Most outlets have picked a side in this ongoing conflict, and because of that their coverage is slanted in one way or another. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has of recent years become more transparent as the economics of the industry has changed. No longer do most media outlets even try to attract a broad readership because the paradigm demands they sell their product (via Internet advertising) to a core base who will only countenance reading articles that reinforces their worldviews AND to readers of the opposing base who read the articles only to rail against them (aka hate clicks). There has always been media organizations with ideological agendas, but now the current paradigm states is that it is more profitable to operate a site with one. I disagree with that, especially in the long term, but that is what the media corporations, who don’t tend to prioritize things like public trust and long-term viability when next month’s traffic report is just a week away, think will keep them afloat in an era where a single person with an Internet connection can theoretically have the same amount of influence as the largest organizations on the planet.

So expect lots of over-the-top rhetoric. Expect documents and quotes that normally wouldn’t see the light of day in a good faith negotiation to be freely distributed to friendly media sources (as already has been done). Expect copious emotional arguments that reference the ongoing pandemic to try to sway you to one side or the other. Expect more Twitter outrage than usual, if that’s even possible. My advice is to ignore all of it, go do something else, and only re-engage when there’s an agreement to re-start the season. That’s what I plan to do here, so expect nothing but non-baseball posts until an agreement happens, whether it’s tomorrow or next year.


Ultimately this is a conflict that should be solved in (virtual) meeting rooms and not in the public sphere, because the players and owners have the most to lose. If no season is played, they will have thrown away a massive opportunity with all the other team sports sidelined until at least the fall to dominate live sports, and more importantly regain mental real estate in the minds of current and potential customers (fans). Fans just lose something to do in their spare time, while the owners and players lose their livelihoods.

If you break the habits of fans that for generations have gotten used to turning the game on every night during the summer months, you’ll lose a significant portion of them when you do return. Baseball is just one of many entertainment options now, and something will fill that gap if it’s not available. Think of the lingering financial effects of the 1994 work stoppage, and consider that was well before most people had access to the Internet, never mind video streaming or other related entertainment industries that didn’t exist back then.

So my response to this PR offensive by the players and owners is this: stop leaking your arguments to the public, stop wasting time engineering your narratives, and start figuring out how to make a season happen safely.


Update (5-25-2020): Here’s one of my comments at LGT, which repeats much of the above, though a bit more to the point:

Agree completely. Now that these positions are staked out in the open, it only makes it harder to retreat from them.

It’s obvious that the parties are trying to get their negotiating arguments out into the public (via their media mouthpieces) in the hopes of getting some kind of leverage if one side or the other gains the public support. IMO this is a colossal mistake, as the vast majority of MLB fans have way more important issues to work through right now rather than to take sides in a labor dispute in an entertainment (read: non-essential) industry.
The good news, if there is any, is that the longer this floor show goes on, the more money is lost, so they have an incentive to settle quickly. Based on the proposed schedule, they need to have some kind of agreement by early June at the latest. For every week of delay after that, that’s another week of games lost, and the more you alienate the fans you are trying to court. Think about the fans who have for generations gotten into the habit of turning on the game every evening in the summer. Already MLB is going to have to re-aquire those fans because they will have cancelled half a season, but they have a great opportunity to do so because every other team sport is sidelined. MLB should be the first one back because of how the game itself is structured (it’s not a contact sport, unlike the NFL, and to a lesser degree, the NBA and NHL).

But if they screw this up, and MLB is the last team sport to return, after those more exposed to outbreaks, then whatever financial pickle they are in now gets monumentally worse. Think about the aftermath of the 94-95 work stoppage and the lingering effects from that, and that took place in a stable economy and without many competing entertainment options (almost nobody had high-speed Internet, never mind streaming services or video games on demand) that baseball fans have now. Don’t just assume that fans will just come back, especially not if everyone’s entertainment budget has been slashed because of the economic downturn, not to mention the sour taste you left in their mouths. Don’t assume that your TV partners won’t want their money back even as they try to remain solvent themselves. Don’t assume that your franchise values will always increase, or that you’ll even have a willing buyer. Don’t assume that your salaries are always going to increase because that’s how it’s always been. Because if you cancel the season and are the last to return, good luck ever getting back to where you were at the end of 2019 in the minds of the public, and that ultimately determines how much money you make.

In other words, owners and players, stop your PR campaigns and narrative constructing, and treat this like the industry crisis it is by shutting the fuck up and getting to the negotiating table.