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Collusion IV? The union is getting annoyed at ownership

Nov 14, 2012, 9:20 AM EDT

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner speaks at news conference to announce new collective bargaining agreement in New York

Once upon a time, baseball owners illegally conspired to keep free agent salaries down. Then they did it again. And again. And they were busted for it, hard.

Then, according to the union, they did it again, and again and again.  They were not busted for it in those instances — baseball owners are a lot more careful about those things these days and, admittedly, sometimes the players just don’t like it when the market isn’t insanely overheated and look for reasons why that is — but the union still watches them closely.

And, as Ken Rosenthal reports, they’re watching the owners again:

The players’ union, sources say, believes that some recent statements by club officials and other baseball employees violate the collective-bargaining agreement. Rules in the CBA state that team officials cannot communicate through the media the substance of economic terms discussed by players and clubs – the facts of an offer, or whether the club will decline to make an offer.

At issue are team officials are signaling through the media what players are asking for and what teams are willing to give them, thereby tipping off other teams about how high they need to go or, alternatively, how low they can go in making offers. Examples include Randy Levine’s comments about the kind of contract Rafael Soriano wants and unnamed executives’ comments about Josh Hamilton‘s demands and how long a contract the Rangers would be willing to offer him. Rosenthal has many other examples.

I suspect that a lot of that is intended to signal stuff to other teams and constrain players’ markets. But I also suspect that there is no real way to make a case that it’s some coordinated effort like it was back in the bad old days of the 1980s.

  1. kkolchak - Nov 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Incredible. The “union” is whining again a year after two $200+ million contracts were handed out and the owners were throwing gobs of money around at even average players. I’m no fan of the billionaire owners, but on the flip side it is hard to feel sympathy for a group of “employees” whose minimum salary is nearly half-a-million dollars per year.

    • nategearhart - Nov 14, 2012 at 9:59 AM

      I don’t see anywhere in the article that the union is asking for your sympathy.

      • protius - Nov 15, 2012 at 8:59 AM

        If you can’t understand that the article presents arguments for and against the union’s position, either expressed or implied, then you have reading comprehension issues.

        Sympathy for one perspective or the other isn’t asked for; the reader obtains it as an opinion after reading the article.

      • nategearhart - Nov 15, 2012 at 10:37 AM

        I can read just fine. The person I was replying to was pretty much saying that once you make X amount of money, you don’t get to complain if you suspect your employer might be screwing you or one of your coworkers over. If my employer was breaking the law in regards to our relationship, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if someone who makes less money than me finds it “hard to feel sympathy” for me, I’d want the problem fixed.
        “You make a million dollars, shut up and do your job.” By that logic, a person making minimum wage could tell someone making $40k to “shut up” if they ever hear complaining. It’s all relative, isn’t it?

      • protius - Nov 15, 2012 at 12:43 PM

        I responded to the content of your original post of Nov 14, 2012 at 9:59 AM.

        Your second post contains the insights your original post lacked. Thank you for sharing them with me and the other readers.

  2. xmatt0926x - Nov 14, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    So if the union routinely pressures big time free agents to take the largest deal in an effort to set the market for everyone else, is that not collusion to some extent? It works both ways. I remember when Jim Thome was a free agent and the Phillies made that huge offer, he was trying to get the Indians to come anywhere close to the deal because he didn’t really want to leave. There were plenty of stories about the union pressuring him to take the Phillies deal to help set the market. It probably evens out in the end. The smaller markets will always stay away from risky free agent deals and then the big time teams can’t help themselves and will always spend big and drive the market up.

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Nov 14, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      Add Tom Glavine that same year – general consensus was he would stay with the Braves or sign with the Phillies, but the Union told him he needed to take the extra year from the Mets was guaranteed, thus making the contract look higher then the offer from the Phillies

  3. heyblueyoustink - Nov 14, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    “Collusion? Tell me about it!”

    Signed: Albert, Alex, Prince.

  4. mrwillie - Nov 14, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Yes, instead let’s collude to drive up prices through agents dropping extremely high contract numbers their free agents will be willing to play for. That way MLB can be more like the NFL where it costs $500 for a family of 4 to attend a game and everyone will just prefer to stay at home at watch in on their couches.

  5. Francisco (FC) - Nov 14, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    While the 1980’s was bad, I think the MLBPA has been grasping at straws recently:

    In November 2007, the MLB Players’ Union raised concerns that owners collusively shared information about free agents and possibly conspired to keep the final price of Alex Rodriguez’s new free agent contract down

    Really? A 10 year $275 MM deal is a conspiracy to keep his price down? Were those guys for real?

    In October 2008, the MLB Players’ Association indicated that it would file a collusion grievance against the owners claiming that they conspired illegally to keep Barry Bonds from receiving a 2008 contract.

    Really? Are we sure it wasn’t the stigma of scandal? I mean it’s not like he was a spring chicken. He was 42 at the time with a great bat but limited defensive skills who recently had a salary of $15 MM more or less…

  6. indaburg - Nov 14, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    I don’t think this is Collusion IV: A Coordinated Attempt to Keep Salaries Down. In regards to Josh Hamilton, I think it’s more like Common Sense Strikes Back.

  7. historiophiliac - Nov 14, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    I’m wondering how many of the people on here have publicly negotiated their salaries and benefits…or have the results made known publicly after the fact.

    • billyboots - Nov 14, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      I’m a teacher, so it’s public record what I get paid. The union usually tells the local paper what we’re asking for, so that is known as well.

  8. nightman13 - Nov 14, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    Remember when sports was just about who won and who lost and guys played because they loved the sport?

    Money ruins everything.

    • natslady - Nov 14, 2012 at 2:50 PM

      Um, that never happened. Read a bio of Babe Ruth, for example, who was censured for making extra money barnstorming around the country. Read a bio of just about any old time “great” ballplayer, and the contract issues are there. Baseball is entertainment, and it’s the fans who are entertained, not the players. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure most baseball players like their job, but I doubt many of them would put in the effort it takes to get to MLB if they didn’t also know that MLB is a big paycheck.

      • manchestermiracle - Nov 14, 2012 at 8:06 PM

        Despite loving the game they still have to make a living. There are lots of examples of athletes in various sports spurning a pro career to make an actual living and pay their bills, just not in the past half century.

        Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, but didn’t sign with them and never played pro ball, preferring a career in business. Of course, that was 1935.

      • nightman13 - Nov 15, 2012 at 9:54 AM

        The upper tier guys always lead the curve, but back in the 50’s and 60’s most professional athletes had offseason jobs to supplement their income.

        I will bet my life that if that pay scale held true today you’d have at least 30% of today’s athlete’s doing something else because they are only in it for fame and money. MLB would probably have a lower number than the NFL and NBA, but there are still guys that play for money and fame rather than a true passion for the game.

    • bigharold - Nov 15, 2012 at 12:47 AM

      “Remember when sports was just about who won and who lost and guys played because they loved the sport?”

      Interestingly enough that also coincides with the reserve clause era too. So were they really just happy to play the sport or were they limited by the only option available too them?

      Like all Yankee fans I revel in their history but I’ve no illusion that had there been free agency all along some of their biggest names would have left at some point. The likelihood that guys like Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra and Mantel would have all been Yankees their entire career would almost certainly nil.

      With the kind of money and the length of contracts that have been handed out in the last 4-5 years, .. to top flight FA I would think the Union would have a hard time proving collusion. What you are not seeing is middle level FA get paid in terms of dollars or length of contract.

      What happens on the field, and for the most part in the clubhouse, is baseball, .. everything else is business.

      • nightman13 - Nov 15, 2012 at 9:59 AM

        I’m not even commenting on free agency so much as the number of athletes that get into sports for money and fame. It’s a much bigger problem in the NFL and NBA, but there are still guys that get their big contracts and then coast in all the major sports.

        It just makes me sick.

  9. jaydoubleyou22 - Nov 15, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    The union is doing what unions do. If nothing is wrong, invent something to maintain member support and thus stay relevant.

    As often as teams leak info that might erode the market, they also leak info to artificially inflate it if a rival team is looking to sign a guy. They may have little or no interest in a guy but will imply anonymously to reporters that they are in there with a big offer.

    The Red Sox and yanks were doing this to each other quite a bit during the past decade as they loaded up on big names (most of which turned out to be bad contracts).

    I think free agency should be based on a public auction, withe player order determined by Some sort of player ranking and/or position. That’s the only way to ensure that there is no manipulation. But of course, the union would never go for this. Why? Because there are no fictitious dark horses to bid against the Rangers for A-Rod.

    Lack of info or bad info usually inflates the market. But the mlbpa needs something to complain about…

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