Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lords of the Realm

The Major League Baseball strike of 1994 was an inevitable and necessary evil.

The strike was inevitable for many reasons: no permanent commissioner, a terrible relationship between the Lords and the players union, and it was simply too late.

It was necessary for one major reason; to get the Lords and players of America’s game back on the same page.

Baseball’s first problem was their lack of leadership during a crucial time. Bud Selig was acting as baseball’s interim commissioner. Blame for the strike shouldn’t be placed solely on Selig, however. Selig was only replacing the man that the real blame should fall on: former Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Fred Kuhlman said Vincent developed “commissioneritis.” Much like “senioritis” affects the ability to complete coursework in timely manner, “commissioneritis” affected the way Vincent operated.

A passage in Lords of the Realm describes just how bad of a commissioner Fay Vincent actually was.

“He accumulated so many grievances that he actually wrote his own list of ‘Bad Things Fay Has Done.’ It included being a labor wimp; being a press hound and compulsive leaker; and being an ineffectual leader.”

Bud Selig did all he could to prevent the ’94 strike (he tirelessly worked the phones calling owners), but in the end it was his title that held him back. He was the interim commissioner, not the permanent commissioner. Although he repeatedly stated that he wasn’t interested in being the full time commissioner (obviously time tells us he actually was), he never took a firm stance on the issues and was afraid to get into the messy politics of baseball.

The Lords and players union also started negotiating far too late. A vital decision for the future of baseball was delayed for too long. Solid business decisions are thought out and rationalized. They aren’t rash and hurried.

When the two sides finally began discussion, the outcome was already a foregone conclusion; there would be no agreement. A baseball stoppage was inevitable.

Could the strike have been avoided? Was it actually inevitable?

If Bud Selig takes a hard stance, do the rest of the owners respect it? What if they started negotiating sooner, do they get a deal done in time? Even if these things happened, the strike was surely to happen. Baseball needed it.

The real reason the ’94 strike was inevitable was the relationship between the owners and players union had deteriorated so far that it was impossible to come to terms of an agreement.
Even when logical and fair arguments were voiced, like luxury tax, the other half wasn’t listening. The owners had tried to short change and reduce players’ salaries and benefits for so long, players were constantly wary of the Lord’s motives. Marvin Miller and the players union had hammered the owners on almost every baseball detail (arbitration, free agency, reserve clause, lockouts, etc.), that the Lords were afraid of what power they would forfeit next.

Their relationship was ruined. Neither side was listening. Neither side was bargaining.

It was a far cry from player/Lord relationship from the early days of baseball. Relationships where owners took care of their players. The Lords then had more than just a monetary investment in their teams. They were their teams.

In those days, owners used to help their players out, usually by any means necessary. Owners helped finance player housing, slipped players cash after a good game, and were much more lenient during the salary negotiation process.

Can you picture George Steinbrenner doing these things for his players?

I can’t either.

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