If you listen closely, you can hear the drum beats coming from both sides, union and management, as our Basic Agreement comes to a close very soon. Too soon for fans. You know the story: management wants a salary cap, knows they'll never get it, so they don't ask for it anymore. But they have to ask for something. Thus, they speak of removing teams or arbitration or free agency. Maybe updating the drug policy again so the players don't get aspirin budgets anymore. Their strategy is this: The more they ask for, the better chance they'll get something. Anything, really, is what they want.
The game is going through a renaissance. Revenues are through the retractable roof. More fans came to games in 2007 than ever before, and the projection for 2008 is even better. TV revenues and ratings have grown. Money from the Internet is busting owners' pockets. Finally, the value of teams grows greater with each fan who passes through a metal detector on their way into stadiums. Yes, it's a great time to be an owner.
Yet, the union is wary of all this good news. We're like old farm animals, poked and prodded and screwed over so many times (not sure anymore if the farm animals reference is a good one anymore). There's got to be something coming, something not good (meaning bad).
One, or you, could say that the union is just being paranoid. Maybe. But I don't think there will ever be complete trust between ownership and the union. I mentioned how we've been screwed so many times, right? It's like if a spouse cheats on another and gets caught. If the one who didn't cheat takes the cheater back, the marriage is still marred, scarred, and two steps closer to over than ever before. The trust can never completely return, no matter how long you (or one) stay together.
In the ownership/union relationship, we'll be married forever. There's no option for divorce here. They've colluded, they've made cuts in people, salaries, they've supported us as we did performance enhancing drugs, then publicly scorned us for doing so. If this were a church, they'd spend most of their time in confession.
Not that the players are exactly angels. We are the ones, after all, who actually took the performance enhancers. We are the ones who've gotten hurt so many times that certain owners have lost enough money to get out of the game entirely. A greater percentage of players have been arrested than owners. And it's not like we're exactly loyal to the people who pay us either. As soon as a guy can be a free agent, 8 times out of 10 he leaves for more money. We're not saints by any means.
Still, we know to be prepared. Howard Phillips, our esteemed head of the union for the last 25 years, has sent to us a memo stating they're going to begin keeping a portion of every paycheck we receive in an escrow fund so that, in case of lockout or strike, we'll have money to live off of. You're thinking, probably out loud, how can millionaires be afraid of not having enough money for a few months? The answer is this: We're not smart. The owners are smart. Howard Phillips is smart. Players? Bowling balls are sharper than the majority of us. We're great at throwing and hitting baseballs, but we're terrible at money management. We're terrible at self-control. We're even worse at finding someone to control us or our money. Either we don't listen to a solid money pro and screw ourselves or we trust the wrong money pro and get screwed. In other words (heads up cat burglars), there are lots of pillow cases in the homes of big league ballplayers stuffed with wads of cash.
My side on all this is a little more complicated. I am a player, obviously. Always have been. But since billionaire Charlie Walker gifted the Nashville Hounds, the Vets' AAA affiliate, to my charity, I'm technically an owner. Even more technically, I'm not an owner because the charity runs the team since I'm not allowed to play and also own a team, be it big league or minor league. However, let's put all technicalities aside. It's in my, and the charity's, best interests for the team revenues and value to rise in an inverse ratio to player salaries and costs. Thus, I'm on the player's side when it comes to the National Baseball League and the owners' side when it comes to the National Baseball Minor League. See what I mean? It's complicated.
Lots of you would prefer that I keep these problems to myself and just play some friggin' baseball. The Veterans are playing under .500 ball and the Hounds are 2 and 7. I'm no good luck charm, certainly, at this point in the season. But this is how baseball works. It's a terrible, awful cliche that 8 out of 10 free agents like to say, but here I go: Baseball is a business.
Thanks for letting me use my daily cliche. I feel liberated.
I'm a flag flying carrier of my union membership card. I flash it whenever I get into trouble. The union army has always been there to save my buttocks from whatever jam I got myself into. I want the army to know that I stand by them. My allegiance is to the union first, the game second - which is dumb because if there is no game, there's no point in a union. But, as I mentioned, whoever said ballplayers were smart?
I can't imagine there will be a strike or a lockout this year. Which means there will probably be a strike or a lockout this year. I hope not. But you never know. That's why it's good to be prepared. My union is going to be prepared. What about yours?