The following is a long discussion between myself and Ted McClelland, spurred by his Slate article on baseball player salaries and social cohesion. Mr. McClelland graciously offered to conduct an e-mail debate on the question, and to allow me to post the results of this debate on the blog. My initial questions are in bold; his responses and counter-questions are italicized.
I’m all for the FCC being completely fine with David Ortiz saying “fuck” in his speech before the Red Sox game yesterday. On the other hand, it would be nice if the FCC would more generally assume people are grown-ups and allow the language used in everyday life to be part of mass media on a more general basis. I’m not sure that reserving the word for political occasions where the agency’s head deems it appropriate has much value.
Edward McClelland has been thinking very hard:
The deregulation of the American economy that began in the 1970s has increased the salaries of professional athletes enormously while reducing those of blue-collar workers. In 1975, pitchers Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos appealed to arbitrator Peter Seitz to strike down baseball’s reserve clause and allow them to sell their services to the highest bidder. The Seitz decision, which was upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, began the era of free agency in professional sports. After increasing arithmetically for the first three-quarters of the century, salaries rose geometrically during the past 25 years of the 1900s and have continued to balloon in the 2000s.
Because the reserve clause was eliminated at the insistence of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Seitz decision is considered a victory for organized labor. It wasn’t. It was a victory for the laissez-faire marketplace.
Labor unions are cartels that increase their members’ salaries by bargaining collectively, thus winning a more lucrative contract than workers could negotiate on their own. Baseball players are entertainers with specialized skills. They didn’t start earning their true market value until they were allowed to negotiate individually with owners—the antithesis of collective bargaining.Marvin Miller, the former United Steelworkers of America economist who became executive director of the MLBPA, was a talent agent, not a labor boss.
I would like to suggest that the connection between striking down the reserve clause and the stagnation of American blue collar wages is… murky. What follows is a long discussion of how perturbed McClellan is that Alex Rodriguez is paid a lot of money by the tremendously wealthy, successful businessmen who own the New York Yankees. Thinking about this makes him sad:
As baseball players accumulate plutocratic riches (Rodriguez will have earned a third of $1billion by the time his contract expires), I find myself wondering why I’m supposed to cheer for a guy earning $27.5 million a year—he’s already a winner. When I was 11, I hero-worshipped the Tigers’ shortstop because I could imagine growing up to take his place. Obviously, that’s not going to happen now. Since my past two jobs disappeared in the Great Recession, I can’t watch a professional sporting event without thinking, Most of those guys are set for life, while I’ve been buying my own health insurance for 5 1/2 years…. I know we’re never going back to the days when Willie Mays lived in Harlem and sold cars in the offseason, but the market forces that have overvalued ballplayers’ skills while devaluing mine have made it impossible for me to just enjoy the damn game.
Here’s the thing; while there are obviously problems associated with determining the “value” of the skills of professional athletes, it’s not at all obvious that Alex Rodriguez is overvalued, or that Willie Mays was appropriately valued. Compensation, obviously, depends on how law and organizational rules structure the ability of owner and worker to negotiate; changes in those rules can have dramatic effect on how much players get paid. I don’t know why people still need to point out that investment in Justin Verlander isn’t irrational if the Tigers win, the owners make money, and franchise value increases.
McClelland is unhappy that he has to pay for health insurance, and has determined that the solution is a set of rules that arbitrarily suppress the value of extremely skilled workers. Such rules will be of no direct material benefit to McClelland, although they’ll surely make billionaire team owners happy; perhaps McClelland hopes that elaborate demonstrations of fealty to these billionaires will land him a more lucrative position.
[SL]: This seems to be the “logic” that buttresses a lot of anti-union sentiment, but once again money generated by professional sports that doesn’t go the player does not then go to teachers or cancer researchers or starving orphans — it goes to (generally obscenely wealthy and lavishly taxpayer-subsidized) owners. If you find yourself longing for the good old days where the almost all of the money generated by the labor of players stayed with the owners, you really need to think harder. (I’m guessing that McClelland is one of those guys who thinks it’s a massive scandal when someone buys an SEC QB a pair of shoes.)
[EL]: Whenever you see someone write, “Labor unions are cartels that increase their members’ salaries by bargaining collectively,” you can pretty much assume that they don’t know what labor unions actually do or why they exist.
In discussing one legend, Jackie Robinson, the writer Roger Angell reminds us what a legend he is as well, whether writing about baseball or his life.
Free agency in baseball is basically dead, at least for high-end players. Players’ current teams are buying the best players out of free agency with long-term deals that will keep most of them on the same team for the majority of their careers. Just this week there was the 8 year deal for Justin Verlander and 9 year deal for Buster Posey. Then last night word came that the Rangers were extending Elvis Andrus for 8 years at $120 million. Personally, I think that’s a staggering amount of money for a good but not great player, albeit one that is only 24 and likely to get better. But they have the money and they want to lock in players. Jonah Keri has much more on this. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. Players are getting paid big money. Owners get bankable stars. Fans get to root for a player over a 15 year period, like in the days before free agency. The only downside is that some of these contracts are going to become albatrosses over time. Unfortunately, I think that probably includes Felix Hernandez in Seattle.
Anyway, it also means that the days of the Yankees buying everyone might be over, or at least limited to the occasional Jeffrey Loria salary dump, as Jonah suggests. I certainly think that’s a good thing.
Also, Opening Day!!!
Given that there’s no longer any reason to display even mild interest in the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to look ahead to Major League Baseball. The structure of the ESPN Baseball Challenge system appears to have changed, but our challenge remains essentially the same:
League Name: LGM
The prize, as always, is a gift of the victor’s choice from the LGM store. However, I have grown so frustrated and angry at M. Ricci’s four year winning streak that I am willing to offer the following additional “bounties” to the man or woman who deposes Ricci:
- A blogpost at LGM, from a blogger of your choice, on a topic of your choice.
- A podcast at LGM, from bloggers of your choice, on topics of your choice.
Hopefully these boons will be sufficient to break the terrible tyranny of M. Ricci over the LGM Baseball Challenge.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels are closing in on a trade that would send outfielder Vernon Wells and a large amount of cash to the Bronx, sources told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday.
While Wells has a no-trade clause, he informed the teams he would accept a deal to the Yankees, one source told Y! Sports.
The 34-year-old likely would play left field and move into the Yankees’ injury-battered everyday lineup. They are expected to start the season with Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on the disabled list.
Someone get Brian Cashman on the phone. Chone Figgins is also available and he’ll definitely keep the Yankees under the luxury tax line!
It’s rare that I disagree with Rob Neyer. But I have to push back on his column about Major League Baseball owners deciding to eliminate the pensions of their non-player employees, despite being quadzillionaires who could obviously afford it. One thing I like about covering labor issues in professional sports is that it’s the only field that grabs the attention of enough people that the little things like this get into the spotlight. Employers around the country are destroying pensions, but when NFL owners lockout referees over it or MLB owners try it, it opens space to talk about it.
Anyway, Neyer argues that corporations are amoral rather than immoral:
But with just a few exceptions, big companies aren’t in the business of respecting people; they’re in the business of sucking as money from their customers and as much labor from their employees as possible, while exacting the maximum amount of profits. They are not generally immoral; they are intrinsically amoral. Eliminating pensions isn’t evil, and perhaps not even shameful.
Corporations have made such inroads into our consciousness that this kind of formulation is common, even among people generally politically progressive like Neyer. Corporations are not some disembodied beast. They are made up of human beings with human values. We as a society allow these wealthy humans who make up a corporation to exercise power up to a given limit, depending on our own values. In times like today, or in the first Gilded Age, when corporations exercise relatively maximum power over society, to create philosophical justifications for their existence that free them of responsibility to larger society. Profit taking becomes naturalized, rather than a socio-economic-political choice. Whether this is the Social Darwinism or Gospel of Wealth of the late 19th century or the weird corporation-as-human creation of the modern Supreme Court, these ideas give corporations room to make very human choices without suffering consequences or even criticism.
It doesn’t matter what big companies are in the business of doing. They are controlled by people who are seeking to maximize wealth at the top of society. It matters to what extent we allow those rich people to do this. Today, we allow them to do about whatever we want, a consequence of a sixty-year pushback against the New Deal that has convinced lots of Americans that business knows all. This attitude allows Bill Gates to shape education policy for no other reason than he is rich. It allows for immoral fallbacks on “fiduciary responsibility” to shareholders to justify any policy, no matter how antisocial. It allows for a Supreme Court to declare that corporations can openly buy elections.
Corporate dumping of toxic chemicals into rivers is in fact evil and shameful. That’s because doing so is a decision made by human beings to maximize profit at the cost of hurting nature and people. The same goes for union-busting, for pension-slashing, and for race to the bottom politics. So long as we apologize away the behavior of corporate leaders by naturalizing their behavior, the things that upset us about corporate control over society will continue to occur. Only by pushing back against corporate ideology do we make society more equal. And that includes for the employees of Major League Baseball.
The coverage of Hugo Chavez’s death has been almost universally terrible. But this piece from Associated Press business reporter Pamela Simpson takes the cake:
Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.
The true sign of national greatness–absurdly large skyscrapers and nice things for rich people.
This sums up much about the business community’s beliefs in 2013. Health care and education for the poor is a waste of money. Glitter and income inequality, that’s the ticket.
Jim Naureckas with more:
In case you’re curious about what kind of results this kooky agenda had, here’s a chart (NACLA, 10/8/12) based on World Bank poverty stats–showing the proportion of Venezuelans living on less than $2 a day falling from 35 percent to 13 percent over three years. (For comparison purposes, there’s a similar stat for Brazil, which made substantial but less dramatic progress against poverty over the same time period.)
Of course, during this time, the number of Venezuelans living in the world’s tallest building went from 0 percent to 0 percent, while the number of copies of the Mona Lisa remained flat, at none. So you have to say that Chavez’s presidency was overall pretty disappointing–at least by AP’s standards.
The new Gilded Age indeed.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball provided its own classy moment, refusing to honor the request of the Venezuelan World Baseball Classic team for a moment of silence before an exhibition game against the Marlins.
Given that Jeffrey Loria is a far greater monster than Hugo Chavez could ever dream of being, this is particularly egregious. But at least Major League Baseball can now return to the unregulated exploitation of young Venezuelan boys.
My latest at the Diplomat is on the opening of the third World Baseball Classic.
The Dominican Republic, led by Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramirez, is the odds on favorite to win the Classic, followed by the United States and Japan. In 2009, however, a strong Dominican team failed to escape pool play, losing twice to the Netherlands. The popularity of the WBC in Korea and Japan may give those teams an edge in morale; U.S. play in the first two tournaments occasionally seemed lackadaisical, as players looked ahead to the Major League season.
Indeed, the major league connection has proven a handicap for many of the American teams. Major league teams have discouraged many of their players (especially pitchers) from participating in the WBC due to injury and exhaustion risks. Consequently, some of the most devastating players in baseball, including Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Johnny Cueto, are sitting the WBC out. On the other hand, the participation of Joey Votto lends no small degree of punch to the Canadian team.
The broader question is the extent to which the WBC helps produce a Pacific rim baseball community. Although major Japanese and Korean stars have played in the United States (and American players are common in Japan), the trans-Pacific relationship remains substantially outside the integrated system that characterizes baseball in the Americas. Of course, whether such integration is desirable is an altogether different question; baseball has a distinct character in each of Korea, Japan, and North America, adding a regional and cultural richness to the sport.
Given that I am now a person who has written about baseball in America, I believe that my invitation to join the Baseball Writers Association of America shall arrive any day. In anticipation, I am already becoming indignant about steroids, and increasingly impressed by the feats of Jack Morris. In any case, I will cheer heartily for Canada if Joey Votto is part of the team (unclear at the moment); otherwise, United States.
Part of the Yankees’ argument: a concession that in the baseball world, they are, in fact, the “Evil Empire.” In its legal papers, the team referenced a number of articles from the past decade using the term in connection with the Yankees, and conceded that the team has “implicitly embraced” the “Evil Empire” theme by playing music from Star Wars during their home games.
The panel of judges sided with the Yankees, ruling that the Yankees are strongly associated with the phrase. Allowing anyone else to use the phrase exclusively would likely cause confusion, ruled the judges.
“In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees,” wrote the judges. “Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable trademark right in the term . . . as used in connection with baseball.”
Now if we can only get the Chicago Cubs to trademark the term “irritating morons” we’ll be getting somewhere.