Plaschke: Blame clueless owners for selfishly canceling MLB games and hurting fans

·6 min read
Los Angeles, CA - October 20: Los Angeles Dodgers fans wave their towels to cheer before game four in the 2021 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fans, shown waving towels during Game 4 of the 2021 NLCS, will be impacted by the continuing MLB lockout as much as the players. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

If you had plans to attend any of the first seven games at Dodger Stadium this season, don’t bother.

Baseball is locking you out.

If you had plans to make a trip to check out Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani in Oakland or Seattle during the season’s first week, forget it.

Baseball has torn up your tickets.

That loud and startling sound that swept across the national sports landscape Tuesday was the bolting of the gates of 30 major league stadiums for the first week of the season, with owners canceling the first two regular-season series as part of their ongoing labor dispute with the players.

What began as an offseason lockout Dec. 2 — and continued as a spring training lockout last month — just became real. For the first time in 27 years, beginning March 31, baseball has canceled regular-season games because of a labor fight, the rancor between billionaires and millionaires now affecting everyone from the bleacher bums to the peanut vendors.

Fans will lose their seats. Ushers and concessionaires will lose their livelihoods. Those who religiously watch from home will lose a companion.

The players will lose a paycheck, but nobody is going to cry for them, as last year they made an annual average salary of $4.17 million.

The owners will lose a bunch of paydays, but, clearly, they don’t care because they’re the ones doing the locking out.

“A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon — in a $10-billion industry, the owners have made a conscious decision to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have, the players,” said Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn. “But the group won’t be intimidated.”

The owners seem just as committed to keeping those doors closed.

"The unfortunate thing is the agreement we offered players had huge benefits to fans and players," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

The cancellation of games — Manfred made the decision now because he said there’s no longer enough time for a proper spring training — benefits nobody, and the dwindling of a 162-game season to a 156-game season could get worse. There are no plans for future negotiations after harried last-minute talks crumbled.

The owners could just keep canceling games until the players give up their increased demands for a piece of the $10-billion pie. This could last until May. This could stretch until June. This could even affect the All-Star game, which is scheduled for July 19 at Dodger Stadium.

It’s an obscene game of chicken, and one we’ve seen before. It’s the ninth time they’ve shut the game down because of selfishness. Other leagues compromise, grow and prosper while baseball bickers and battles and points its fingers at one another on a path toward national irrelevancy.

What was formerly America’s national pastime has become this country’s fourth-most popular sport behind the NFL, college football and the NBA. Baseball is no longer a national sport but a regional activity beloved in some places and ignored in others. The game is too slow, the rosters are too homogeneous, and analytics-driven changes such as the infield shift are too numbing.

And now this? Even after it required a scandalous steroid infusion to make the game seem exciting again after the 1994 World Series was canceled in a labor dispute, baseball is willing to travel down that same road again?

Attendance is down. Ratings are sagging. Baseball's guardians should be growing the game, not razing it.

Seriously, what kind of dunderheaded sports league cancels its first week of games in a blatant money grab?

“My deepest hope is that we get an agreement quickly,” said Manfred, who later added, “The concerns of our fans are at the very top of our considerations list.”

No, they’re not. If the fans truly mattered to Guggenheim or Arte Moreno or any one of the other 28 owners, they would be playing spring training games right now.

You wouldn’t have to cancel your annual March trip to Camelback Ranch. You and your buddies wouldn’t be stuck with nonrefundable airline tickets to watch the Angels in Tempe, Ariz.

If nothing else, this latest labor absurdity should remind you, the fan, that no matter how much your favorite team’s baseball owner tries to woo you, that owner views you as just another money-producing pawn.

Indeed, while players are often perceived as the villains in these fights because some players make $1 million every time they step on to the field, this one is on their bosses.

Even as the team’s bankrolls have ballooned in recent years thanks in part to regional television money — the Atlanta Braves reported a $111-million net gain last year — the players’ salaries have decreased in each of the last four years. The players want a bigger slice of this revenue they create, and who can blame them?

Within all the other bells and whistles involved in the negotiations, the two most obvious sticking points are the minimum salary and a luxury tax threshold that would increase player salaries.

The gate to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., is locked for spring training.
The gate to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., is locked as Major League Baseball negotiations continue in an attempt to reach a collective bargaining agreement. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

The players want the minimum salary increased to at least $725,000. The owners want to pay on a scale beginning at $675,000.

The players want the owners to pay at least $238 million in combined salaries before being taxed, with that number being increased every year. The owners want that figure to begin at $220 million. In the previous two negotiating periods, the luxury tax threshold increased 18% while industry revenue increased more than 40%, so one can see the player’s point here.

“We came into these negotiations understanding that the landscape across the game has changed and that more young players, more than ever, are entering the game and producing at high levels than we’ve ever seen before,” former Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer, now with the New York Mets, said in a news conference. “We as players wanted to address that and raise their level of compensation relative to league revenues. As we navigated through the process, we still feel there are dollars to be allocated toward them that would fairly compensate their contributions on the field more so than what’s on the table at this point.”

Did you do the math on those numbers? The differences are relatively workable. This entire ordeal is relatively stupid. The owners need to get a clue.

In the meantime, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has been silenced, thanks to those with brains of peanuts and a backbone of Cracker Jack.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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