Tough decisions, tough talk ahead
Baseball resumed last week after a six day lay off due to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and what a welcome return it was. Flags were waving, patriotic songs were sung, tears were shed and for a few hours, we could have just a small bit of comfort.
Now baseball fans find themselves at a time that they've been looking to with dread on par with having a root canal; the collective bargaining agreement talks are going to take place in a few weeks. It may seem petty and unimportant compared to recent events, but it is something that needs to be discussed, and may or may not affect the way we see baseball in the coming years.
Bud Selig has made it known that ownership should not talk publicly about the CBA talks, and has threatened fines if they do so, which is a good idea. A good part of the reason that the previous talks led to a strike in '94 is the spin that was played in the media by all of the parties involved, this move will try to a least quiet down the rhetoric and focus more attention to actual negotiating. But can anything be done? Surely the success of some of the "cash starved" teams this season (Twins, Phillies) will raise a few arguments during the talks, but in the case of the Twins, it turns out the success wasn't as long lasting as it first appeared.
The commissioner has also not hidden the fact that he wishes to implement some or all of the suggestions found in the blue ribbon report on the state of baseball, and will have a tough fight on his hands if anything from that report is to be implemented. Can anything be done? I believe so, but with small incremental steps, rather than huge, sweeping changes. The first in this case would be the luxury tax option, in which a team spending over a pre determined amount for a player would have to pay a luxury tax, and the revenue from this tax would go into a coffer and somehow divided among the other teams.
This seems to be the least contentious of the recommendations, because from the players union perspective, it doesn't cap salaries, and from an ownership view, it will mean extra money to cough up, but compared to full revenue sharing (see next point) it will be small potatoes.
The full revenue sharing option seems like a pipe dream now (if ever). That would certainly involve a full retooling of how the sport is financed, not to mention requiring the complete agreement of ownership and the players union, who ultimately has the last word on virtually anything suggested. The other option is a salary cap, which is an almost certain guarantee of a strike or lockout. Again, the players union is a tough nut to crack in these matters, and they will not be moved when it comes to a cap.
A few other things, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, I feel it would be a risky proposition for the players to strike. The public will have little tolerance and sympathy for people, they view, as overpaid and greedy to begin with, and who's concerns seem quite petty as people are left homeless, jobless. And with families torn apart as a result of this tragedy, and I feel will further alienate a public still angry about the '94 strike and will cause more fans to leave the game.
I have also heard it said that Selig will postpone the talks until the end of the '02 season to allow for the all-star game here in Milwaukee. I personally don't think he will, because of the cloud that will be overhead throughout the season could end up doing more harm than good. I think it would be better to get it out of the way and done this season, than to spoil what promises to be a wonderful couple of days next season. Of course, that's not to say the players union won't use this fact as a bargaining chip during the cba talks.
Baseball needs something to be done about revenue now, so we can all get back to enjoying the sport. And ownership needs to spend what ever extra revenue it gets on players and their farm systems, not to line their pockets. Over half of the teams in baseball go into spring training knowing they have no chance to make it to the post season and that isn't right. Bring baseball back to the fans, no matter how big or small the market is. This game belongs to us.