Weekend Report: The 31st Corporation

on 08/02/2002


The standard thing to do after the deadline is to talk about how your team did. I had intended to do this, but due to the small volume of activity and the anticipation that will happen more during the waiver period, I'm putting that column on hold. Some of you may have read Baseball Prospectus put out requests for a "Pro-owner" piece that meets their standards. I wrote the following piece and sent it in without receiving a response.

The thirty-first baseball corporation. Who is this mythical entity? Well assuming that MLB finally capitulates to the promise of immediate money and sells the Expos to D.C., the 31st corporation in baseball is the Players Union. This may seem like a radical concept in this area of loaded political meanings and long held misconceptions, but at the simplest of levels, ALL unions are corporations in the business of selling labor to other businesses. No shares exist, but the corporation runs on the "dues" it exacts from its members ostensibly to return a future investment of better wages and working conditions.

Deep down we all realize this. It doesn't creep into our consciousness when thinking about more blue collars unions, but when major league baseball players start fighting with owners over who makes how many millions of dollars, we intuitively grasp the universal corporate greed at work.

The defenders of the Player's Union call the owners deceitful. While they tend to be evasive about certain expense issues it's not about the money, it's a privacy issue. As a private citizen, would you want everyone else to know exactly how much money you are making and which investments you have? In that regard, they are merely trying to avoid giving up legal rights.

The second thing the union defenders like to trot out is the free market ideal to which they aspire. How can a union member with a straight face talk about promoting free markets? The entire point of a union is to concentrate monopoly or near monoploistic power to bargain over the price of its goods (wages to employees). If the union truly wanted a free market, they would have to disband. If the union truly was pro-free market they would resist slotting of bonuses for draftees. They make noise about how they want to reduce the number of draft rounds to promote a more free talent market, but this is merely a smoke screen as the MLB players union offers to sellout the rights of individuals it doesn't represent (potential draftees). The union's main goal is the same as the owners in this regard, to reduce the amount of money paid to unproven players. Their motives are much more nefarious then the owners, though. The owners merely seek to limit the expense associated with training new workers, a standard accepted business practice. The union, however, only seeks to increase the amount of pie they can grab at the expense of individuals it does not represent.

Red herring number 3. The fact that the union defenders like to talk about how the owners promise not to lockout during the season is a joke. If they were really serious about preventing a work stoppage, they should agree not to lockout the players in the off-season. I'm not sure if they actually realize how stupid that is. The owners are trying to bargain a new system. The players like the current system, so if the owners decline to lockout the players they lose automatically: game over, thanks for playing. It is the unfortunate truth that there is no middle ground between the two parties unless they agree on it. Otherwise, one side loses no matter what.

Simply put, the major league players union displays most of the classic anti-free market policies practiced by all unions by being exclusionary (Rick Reed, anyone?) and seeking to strongly control the amount of money paid to new entrants. The owners rightly claim to be more responsive to the long term needs of the fan, because it's good business. What stake in baseball do the players have after they get their contract? Sure they don't want baseball to die as entertainment in the next 5 or 10 years, but how could it decline that fast anyway? No, the danger is that the next generation won't have interest and 20 years from now the game will be in steep decline. What do today's players lose? Some might lose out on managerial jobs, but that is a small matter compared to the billions of dollars the owners collectively stand to lose when our businesses collapse. So who would you rather trust for the long term stewardship of the game?

Jason Belter can be reached for comment at belt0042@umn.edu

Player of the Week

Since I skipped any stats for the column I wanted to do some here, so I made the decision to highlight Alex Sanchez as player of the week on Thursday before the game. Up to this point Alex has gotten 6 hits in 15 AB's with a walk, a double, and 4 SB. His OBP for the week is .438, and he's now hitting .313. As little as a week ago the thought of 50 SB seemed a long shot, but not anymore. If Royster keeps sitting him, it will prove difficult, but not impossible if he maintains his July pace of 12 SB and only 1 CS. Even more scary is the real possibility that if he got all of the remaining starts he has a solid chance to top Listach's single season record. On a per PA basis Alex is the most prolific base stealer in baseball, and he seems poised to base Castillo for the lead in SB despite giving up close to 100 PA too the second basemen.

The last week or so Jim Powell (Brewers radio voice) has started to talk up Sanchez as a ROY candidate, which again seemed silly just a week ago, but at the time, I said 50 SB might change some opinions. Still Alex has a long way to go to dark horse his way to victory. The two biggest names in the NL race are Kearns and Ishii. Ishii has been faltering lately, apparently due to the workload and his WHIP remains a suspect 1.56. Still market size and contention will continue to favor him, as will playing in Chavez ravine. Kearns, much to my surprise, hasn't been as good as I thought. His OBP is near .400, but his BA is merely solid with a SLG under .500 leaving his OPS well short of .900. Voters tend to not pay as much attention to OBP as they should and without really flashy RBI or HR numbers Kearns might not do as well as once thought. I'd still trade for him in a flash, but he has left the door open so to speak. And just for the fun of it let's take a look at this past ROY: BA .350 OBP .381 SLG .457 with 56 SB. As I'm sure you've guessed this was Ichiro's line last year. He has a clear edge in BA, and SLG with a better defensive reputation, but his OBP isn't that much better and the SB look to be close, while I think Alex has turned himself into an average defender, which is all that Ichiro is despite the hype.