Week of March 4, 2022

“Hear me out on the helicopter saw idea.”

This Story Has Nothing To Do With Sports

But take the ten minutes to read it. 

Jonathon Tjarks writes for The Ringer. About a year ago he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer (“a Ewing’s-like sarcoma with a BCOR-CCNB3 rearrangement”). In this story, he ponders his life and what his son’s life will be like after he’s gone. 

This is not Tjarks first experience with this sort of thing. When Tjarks  was six, his dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although he died when Jonathon was 21, his dad had been a shadow for almost a decade. “He was there, but no longer there” by the time Jonathon turned 12. He remembers how his dad’s friends would show up a lot in the beginning, but it was just nurses by the end. 

My dad kept getting sicker and could no longer do the things that had made them friends in the first place. People moved, or had kids, or got busy at work. Even the Christmas cards stopped coming. By the end, the only people who stopped by the house were nurses and health care workers. 

My dad died when I was 21. There were a bunch of people at his funeral whom I hadn’t seen in years. They all told me how sorry they were and asked whether there was anything they could do. All I could think was I don’t know any of you. I know of you. I’ve heard your names. But I don’t know you.

With those memories, Tjarks thinks of his son, and what the future might hold for Jackson after his dad dies. 

I have already told some of my friends: When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? Were you there for them? Does my son know you? 

I don’t want Jackson to have the same childhood that I did. I want him to wonder why his dad’s friends always come over and shoot hoops with him. Why they always invite him to their houses. Why there are so many of them at his games. I hope that he gets sick of them.

Were you good to my child? Were you good to my wife? What a powerful measurement of friendship. 

Worth the full read. – PAL 

Source: Does My Son Know You?,” Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (03/03/22)

1-2-3 Debates???

Watch this play:

First of all, that’s an incredible effort. Full extension, all out effort. Tough as hell. Absolutely no regard for his own health and safety. And that’s all great.

But it is that last part (no regard for his own health), and the message from the Twitter Coach (“Every coach wants a player who wants the baseball this badly”) that I want to discuss. Because I disagree. Trying to make a play like that is simply not worth it. 

First, there is little gain in the big picture. The game is between Fordham and Virginia Tech. The catcher plays for Fordham. The catcher’s team is down 5-0 in the third, (in a game they will go on to lose 12-0, though he doesn’t know that at the time). It’s not a league game, and Fordham has no shot at the NCAA tournament. Fordham’s season does not hang in the balance. 

Second, there is little to gain in the small picture. There is a man on second. But the ball is in foul territory. We are not talking about a ball in the gap. So, while if he catches the ball the inning is over, if he does not catch the ball, no runs will score, either. At least not right away. The at bat would continue, and the pitcher has another shot to get out of the inning (indeed, the at bat ended with a fly ball to center field).

Third, the catcher has a ton to lose. And so does the team. Again, I want to stress – incredible effort by this kid. But this kid, Andy Semo, is a senior. He hit .287 in fewer than 100 ABs last year while splitting time behind the dish, and probably hopes to be the full-time catcher this year (he has started 3 out 5 games so far this year). And he is damn lucky he did not get hurt on that play. Ignore the most severe injuries that could have occurred (neck, spine, head) by diving face first, blindly, toward the opposing dugout. Maybe he screws up his shoulder. Maybe he screws up his elbow or his knee or his hip. Well, there goes his senior year. And it’s bad for the team, too. He’s the team’s starting catcher, and thus is likely a leader on the team. The whole team is affected for the worse if he goes out with injury. 

And for what? A single out in a mismatched game that his team already trails 5-0? That’s worth the risk of injury?

Now, I don’t coach college baseball. I don’t know what it’s like to have my job on the line, determined on kids or young adults playing a game. But as my kids get older, I will coach them not to try to make plays like that. I’m not saying to never dive. But be smart about it. Don’t dive head first into/toward walls. Unless your season is on the line, no single out is worth an injury. Consider the situation in the game, and the season. Consider your role on the team. Tip your cap to dudes like Andy Semo, but protect yourself and your team, too. -TOB

PAL: You’re a cerebral dude, TOB. We can watch that clip loop on Twitter and consider the situation and circumstances, and you’re probably right. But your thought-process is not something a player can measure while the ball is in the air, so I want dude’s on my team that want to make a great play. 

It’s not even for the one play, it’s about that spirit being contagious, and a few games later you got more guys selling out on plays. That ball in the gap that you mention? That play is determined on whether or not an outfielder really wants to catch that ball – not on the last step before the dive, but on the first step as the ball leaves the bat. 

You can’t put a governor on a competitor.  

How Much Money are MLB and MLBPA Fighting Over?

So, the baseball lockout continued this week. And for the first time over the last three months, I am concerned. That is because the first week of regular games was canceled when there was no agreement by MLB’s self-imposed deadline of 5pm EST on Monday, February 28. 

Let me start this by saying: I am firmly on the player’s side here. But I have been wondering – how much money is at issue in the disputes, at least as they’ve been reported? To answer this question, it’s helpful to understand we got here on two big issues: compensation for young players and the competitive balance tax (“CBT”). Let’s dig in.

Compensation for Young Players.

Pay for young players is a big issue in these negotiations. Generally, teams have control over a player for six years of major league* service time. For the first three years, players make the league minimum, which is presently $570,500. After three years, players become arbitration eligible. Once arbitration eligible, players and teams negotiate their salary to bring them more in line with the open market pay for a player of their skills and production. If they can’t agree, the case is submitted to an arbitrator, who chooses either the player’s demanded number or the team’s offered number, but nothing in between. For whatever reason, arbitration numbers are never in-line with what a player would make on the open market. Finally, after six years, players become free agents. 

*And remember, before they make the big leagues, they are getting paid waaaaaaay less than minimum wage in the minors:

A player earns a year of service time when he is on the major league roster for 172 days of a 186 day season. Teams have taken advantage of this to manipulate service time to earn a seventh year by waiting 15 days into a season before calling up a player. The most famous example was when the Cubs did this to Kris Bryant. Bryant won the Rookie of the Year but did not earn a year of service time, so the Cubs essentially got him for seven years before he became a free agent instead of six.

All of this is problematic and the results proved worse than anyone anticipated. A player usually does not hit free agency until they are 30, which is past most players’ primes. Teams realized it was not smart to hand out long free agent deals for big dollars when they could get almost the same productivity out of players making the league minimum. So, free agent deals became shorter and for less money, outside of the very top of the pyramid. This suppressed wages across the board – more and more players were making league minimum and fewer and fewer players were getting big free agent deals. In fact, in 2019 and 2021 (the last two full seasons), league minimum players accounted for 52% of MLB service time. That’s a huge percentage! And it has mattered – MLB salaries have decreased 6.4% over the course of the previous CBA.

Initially, the players tried to change much of the above – less time to arbitration, less time to free agency, rules prohibiting service time manipulation. The owners told them all of this was a non-starter. So the players and owners zeroed in on a few ways to increase pay for pre-arbitration players. 

The first was a minimum salary increase. As for the minimum salary, MLB’s minimum of $570,500 is very low compared to the other three major American sports: the NFL is $660,000 for first year players and $780,000 for second year; the NBA is $925,258 for first year players and $1.5 million for second year players; heck, even the NHL is even higher – at $750,000. 

Reportedly, the sides are not that far apart. The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported that MLBPA’s last offer was $725,000 with $20,000 annual increases to the minimum. MLB is at $700,000, going as high as $740,000 over the course of the 5-year deal. In year 1, we are talking about a $25,000 per year difference in minimum salary. Assuming the the league continues to be made up of 50% league minimum players, we are basically talking 13 players per team x $25,000, which amounts to $325,000 per team. This is peanuts to MLB.

Additionally, the sides have negotiated a so-called “pre-arb bonus pool” – a league wide pool of money to be distributed annually to players in years one through three of service time based on their play. MLBPA had been at a pool of $115M but are now asking just $85M, with $5M increases each year. MLB was at $25M and has come up to just $30M. That $55M gap amounts to $1.8M per team. Again, this is peanuts. 

Competitive Balance Tax. 

This is likely the much bigger issue. The Competitive Balance Tax is a de facto salary cap. Teams can and do exceed the number, but they are forced to pay a tax to other teams when they do so. The more they exceed the limit by, the more dollars per dollar exceeded that they must pay. Also, they suffer exponentially worse penalties, including lost draft picks, each year they remain above the limit.

The players are not seeking to eliminate the CBT. Instead, they want to bring the CBT up to a level that is fair given the increased revenues MLB has seen since the CBT was instituted. Over the last few years, here was the limit:

2017: $195 million

2018: $197 million

2019: $206 million

2020: $208 million

2021: $210 million

And here were the last offers:


2022: $238M $220M

2023: $244M $220M

2024: $250M $220M

2025: $256M $224M

2026: $263M $230M

And honestly, the MLBPA’s numbers are beyond reasonable. Because MLB revenues have been soaring, increasing from $8.2 billion in 2015 to over $10.7 billion in 2019.

But what’s crazy here is that the owners are digging in so hard over what is a very small number. In 2021, 13 teams had payrolls under $100M. Five teams spent less than fifty million. Almost half the league isn’t even halfway to the CBT. Only one team went over the $210M threshold (the Dodgers, at $266M). Only two more teams even got close – the Yankees and Mets each surpassed $200M. The CBT threshold is working so effectively that teams aren’t even getting close to approaching it, let alone surpassing it. In fact, only eight teams have surpassed the CBT since it was instituted back in 2002, and only two teams have surpassed it more than four times in those 20 years. 

MLB’s fear is that if the CBT is raised more teams will increase payroll toward it. This, in turn, will make it more difficult for those teams who are paying well under it (half the league or more) to compete. 

So the answer to my initial question? MLB is canceling games over $2M per team in salaries for young players and … a difficult to peg but insignificant amount of money for the few teams who even approach the CBT. Absolutely stupid and greedy by the owners.

What’s most commendable to me is what the players are fighting for. They have fought to increase the playoff field to 12 teams instead of 14 teams, as the owners want (more playoff teams = more playoff games = more money). And the players in MLBPA leadership are largely established stars – guys like Max Scherzer, who will lose out on approximately $250,000 each day missed in the season. Max is sacrificing that money to fight, mostly, for young players – to increase their minimum salary and increase their bonus pool. And for players in their prime, hitting free agency – so that their salaries will get bigger. 

And while the players will not be paid during the lockout, the owners will – it has been reported that MLB owners will still get paid the money from their TV deals (national and regional) until they miss 25 games. In other words, the owners canceled games, refuse to pay players, refuse to pay the thousands and thousands of workers whose income depends on baseball games being players…and they will only lose the revenue from each game.

And this is where this all gets dumber from the owner’s perspective. As I’ve laid out above, they are arguing over a small amount of money per year. But according to some reports, the average MLB game pulls in $4M in revenue. That’s $4M per home game – which means if MLB ends up canceling 25 games and thus 12.5 home games per team, we are talking $50 million in lost revenue per team. Absolutely stupid. 

And let’s also not forget that MLB locked the players out, when they could technically continue to play games without a lockout, claiming that a lockout would jump start negotiations by putting some pressure on. Then MLB didn’t make a single offer until 43 days later, and the two sides met very little until last week.

And top of all that, the Blue Jays’ Ross Stripling reports that in the wee hours on the last full day of negotiations before MLB’s self-imposed and artificial deadline expired, the owners tried to shove a bunch of crap down their throats.

I think what’s most frustrating here is that the players are not asking for a heck of a lot. As Michael Baumann of the Ringer put it:

Rather than trying to abolish the competitive balance tax or revenue sharing, or to take years off the path to free agency—suggestions that would have made the negotiations even more ponderous and acrimonious than they have been already—they sought to tweak the current system: to rebalance the sport’s incentive structure, so teams would be emboldened to invest in the on-field product.

“[The owners] don’t want to play,” Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon tweeted Monday. “It’s sad that these are the guys who drive the direction and ‘future’ of our amazing sport.”

That’s what this boils down to. This is not an irreconcilable conflict of philosophy, nor a necessary belt-tightening brought on by mysterious economic forces. This is a group of, in Taillon’s words, “guys,” who are willing to shut down a historic corner of American culture until they are able to profit as much as they desire. 

Support the players. They are sacrificing a lot of pay for very little asked in return. -TOB

Video of the Week

I’ve run out of superlatives.

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

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Don’t take glee in it. I’m being blackmailed!

Jesse Gemstone