Sports Guy

Labor Lessons

It's been a tough few years for us decision making Americans. First, back in 2000, we had to choose between George W. Bush and Al Gore, two of the worst presidential candidates in history. Next, around the time of last year's Grammy Awards, we were trying to figure out whom we disliked more—Britney or Christina. Now we have to pick sides between millionaire baseball players and multimillionaire owners, both of whom seem determined to deprive us of our national pastime yet again, all for the sake of the almighty dollar.

As The New York Times put it earlier this month, the baseball crisis presents fans with a decision similar to "choosing sides in a war between Iran and Iraq." If we side with the players, we're supporting rich and spoiled brats who simply want more, not for any particularly valid or noble reason, but just because they know they can get it. On the flip side, if we choose to back the owners, we're protecting the barons of a gilded system that plays out more like servitude than entertainment, a system that harkens back to the days when big white CEOs employed immigrants and minorities by the truckload, then got rich off of them and their relatively cheap labor.

Of course, back then, around the turn of the last century, around the time that modern baseball was born, one could at least argue that "owners" such as J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller actually owned something. Today, in baseball, there's no real equipment, there aren't really products, and all the owners own is talent, a thoroughly arbitrary commodity anyway (e.g., A-Rod). In the grand scheme of things, it's completely irrelevant if a team wins or loses. If fans show up and the TV money is good, an owner will score, no matter what.

The players say the only way around this is to earn more money. History, however, shows us otherwise. Back in the early 1900s, the heyday of the modern labor movement, union organizers aimed for nothing short of partial ownership, their very own seat in the corporate boardroom. Today, baseball players should employ the same tactic, and simply buy themselves a fair shake. The average salary in Major League Baseball is $2.4 million, meaning that if each of the league's 750 players contributed 5 percent in the form of union dues each year, the Players Union could gather $90 million per year to invest annually in minority ownership of a number of teams. Over time, the players could buy out other limited partners and increase their control, eventually becoming majority owners, and securing themselves a position from which they actually can wield leaguewide power to get their way.

Sure, this suggestion is radical. And yes, it would take years to complete the coup. But think about it: With player-owners, the next time Arthur Rhodes wants more cash, he can gripe to Mariners player representative Paul Abbott and secure himself a raise; the next time Bret Boone follows a breakout season with a repeat of this year's "performance," his teammates can dock his pay accordingly. Under my system, if millionaire players ever had the nerve to plead poverty again, they would only have themselves to blame and would most likely think twice before denying us the game we love. In short, to keep living large, these guys would have no choice but to shut up and play ball.

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