As most of us probably knew, the owners would ultimately “win” the negotiations. The union representatives who voted 8-0 not to accept the deal fully understood as much. But the team reps voted to accept it, likely out of the same type of desperation that many fans were beginning to feel. The owners who drove the lock-out showed no real urgency in seeing it end. The victims weren’t going to be the owners. The workers at stadiums across the land would suffer economic hardship, and the players, especially the fringe players, had to nervously contemplate the shortening of already short and fragile playing careers. Those are the potential victims of a shortened season. The owners…well…not nearly as much. Maybe, not at all, as their long-term interest in weakening the players union, if only a bit, was accomplished.
As I wrote a few weeks back, my own pessimism about the lock-out ending before games would be lost, centered largely upon the economic reality that the billionaire owners simply wouldn’t suffer hardship. They have so much economic capital at their disposal, that keeping their labor costs low is of far more long-term interest to them, than the trifling millions, or even tens of millions that they might potentially lose in the short-term.
Because of that economic reality, baseball would be back when the sides met, not in the middle, but somewhere closer to what the owners demanded and what the players decided they must suck up and accept. That happened late last week, when the players decided to cry “uncle.” I don’t blame them, as I and countless others have mentioned, they were in a far less enviable position that multi-billionaires sitting on ever-growing assets (probably outside of baseball, but certainly with regard to the values of their teams).
While some will say “there are no winners” in a lock-out that prevents baseball from starting on time, the truth is…the owners won, and the players know it. Of course it’s unfair, but, anyone who reads this who has managed to navigate their own lives in even a moderately functional manner, understands that fairness isn’t really a function of capitalism. Trying to talk to people, like owners of MLB teams, for whom money is not an object, into worrying about short-term economic loss is simply a case-study in futility.
If the players were truly so bound to their principles (whether appropriate or not) that they could have stay unified and refuse to back down, then the entire season would have been in peril. But nobody really expected that. Not because the players are right or wrong, but because right or wrong, the players were far less likely to consider forfeiting an entire season or doing something else that might truly get the owners’ attention, than the owners were willing to stay unified in crushing (or at least diminishing) the power of the union.
The owners don’t care about the fans (I mean they likely appreciate us and our attention and willingness to pay for beer and peanuts…but they don’t really put our emotional well-being into this equation). They don’t care about the concessionaires, or even the kids who might not get to see their first game and develop a life-long interest (or in our cases, a life-long obsession). They care about the long-term value of their asset (the franchise) which has seen phenomenal growth in recent decades. Keeping the cost of “labor” down is the way to make more each year, and to continue to improve the seemingly infinite growth in the value of their asset long-term.
Now is not the time to wax philosophically about whether a billionaire could possibly care about the “little people.” Though, if this was the time, we might consider whether caring about those people would have lessened those profits somewhere along the line before billionaire status was attained, but not me, not today.
Others have written about whether many owners even really have all that much interest in producing a winning team. After all, their yearly profits are substantial, and their yearly appreciation in the value of their asset is seemingly unending. Winning is nice and everything, but do billionaires really care all that much about that? Not to be completely depressing, but is there any genuine evidence that the Pohlad boys would be willing to forego a year of profit, or even less profit, by going after some serious free agents and actually increasing payroll?
Now that the lock-out is settled, we can go back to a regular (albeit, brief) off-season for the Twins, in that they will “just miss” every quality free agent on the market, by making “oh so close” offers that keep getting rejected. I do the same thing myself, when someone suggests I go buy a new car. I go to the dealer, and offer just a bit less than I know they will accept, and then walk away muttering how close I was, and how disappointed I was that my “reasonable offer” wasn’t accepted. Whenever my spouse or children wonder why I drive the same old car, I just say (truthfully) that my offers for a new one were serious, and meaningful, but I couldn’t quite close the deal.
So, the question is: How angry should we be? When I was a much younger man, the answer would have been very angry, or at least angry. But now, with maturity and wisdom (?) comes the understanding that…it’s really only a game. Granted, it’s a game with millions at stake for many players and hundreds of millions to be added to the billions of the owners…but for us, it’s really just a game.
I love my Minnesota Twins. I know you do too. I won’t pretend to be “that guy” who says “this is it, I’m never coming back!” I’ll be back, I’m already back, and you probably already are back too. So, now that baseball is back, I’ll just relax, pretend there’s not a land war in Europe, or economic hardship that afflicts millions of our fellow citizens and find joy in my summer’s distraction. Now that we only have three weeks or so before the start of the season, I can focus my attention on those available free-agent pitchers that the Twins will fall just short of signing. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed, and I’ll get over it…again.