Baseball’s spring training has been suspended and Opening Day for the KC Royals and the game’s other 29 big league teams is delayed indefinitely. But the downtime can be wisely used.
Here are this week’s KC Royals Midweek Musings while hoping all of you are staying safe.
Work on preserving labor peace. Major League Baseball’s rules control how the game is played on the field; MLB’s Basic Agreement controls the labor relationship between big-league players and the 30 teams that employ them. In its simplest form, the Basic Agreement is a contract negotiated between baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the players’ union and exclusive bargaining agent.
The current Agreement took effect Dec. 1, 2016, and expires Dec. 1, 2021, leaving over 21 months for management and labor to negotiate a new deal. But 21 months can be a short time in the world of labor negotiations, the complexities of which the complicated business of baseball can agonizingly compound. The game’s five strikes and three lockouts since the union was first organized in 1966 prove, in no small part, that the two sides sometimes wait too long to find common ground.
Baseball’s current hiatus gives owners and players a chance to work out their labor differences and avoid the game’s first labor interruption since the infamous 1994-95 strike prematurely ended the ’94 season, wiped out the entire postseason and delayed the ’95 season’s start by a month.
The game recovered from that strike but it took time, and some fans couldn’t (or wouldn’t) forgive and never returned. The current pause is, of course, not of the players’ or owners’ making, so fans will have no reason to stay away when baseball resumes.
No one, however, knows when the game will be back; this season could be so shortened that the appetite for a complete baseball season could be greater than ever–the 2021 campaign may be the most anticipated and welcomed season in history.
That’s why labor and management mustn’t waste time rattling sabers or publicly puffing untenable positions. If serious progress isn’t made, either party may well resort to its most powerful economic weapon–the union could strike or the owners could lock the players out. A strike or lockout would most assuredly occur when either tactic would have the most financial impact–during the 2021 season.
Fans will have little patience if labor strife shuts baseball down. Such an interruption of the game may be too much for fans to tolerate, coming as it would on the heels of the current one and occasioned not by grave outside sources, but instead by the inability of owners and players perceived by so many as too rich to wage war over bigger shares of an already huge money pie.
Labor and management need to take heed and get to work. They have the time and can at least lay critical groundwork without running afoul of social distancing recommendations–effective electronic communications, messaging and conferencing capabilities are almost limitless. The union and owners may not reach agreement quickly, but they can use the current downtime to get closer to a deal and avoid a repeat of 1994-95.
Minor league players and finances. Major League Baseball instructed most minor league players to leave camps Sunday and will pay their ways home. While that gesture is nice, minor leaguers aren’t being paid–they’re only compensated during the season, and no baseball means no baseball pay.
Major league clubs pay their minor league players’ salaries; those players earn as little as $209 per month in rookie and short-season ball and $502 per month in Triple-A (both are minimum salaries). Although those threshold compensation levels will increase in 2021, the pay is strikingly low and exempt from federal minimum wage and hour laws.
Some franchises have decided to pay minor leaguers $400 per week until the end of March but, for so many reasons, all clubs should follow suit and pay more. Ultimately, franchises and Major League Baseball have the collective financial wherewithal to make sure baseball workers don’t suffer financial hardship, a fact proved Tuesday when baseball announced each club, including the KC Royals, will allocate $1 million to pay stadium workers.
(The situation for minor league players is extremely fluid. They remained in compensation limbo when this story was written).
Injury recovery time. As Kings of Kauffman writer David Scharff reported recently, the KC Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi, who’s been busy rehabbing his injured and surgically-repaired shoulder, was set to make his spring training debut on the very day baseball shut down Cactus League games. Scharff pointed out that the forced time off affords Mondesi extra valuable time to heal.
The same is true for other KC Royals. As of Monday, many players, some staff, and the training staff were still in spring camp, giving any injured players the opportunity for treatment, a benefit the clubs are still obligated to provide. Whether players like Salvador Perez (Tommy John surgery), Stephen Woods Jr. (lateral and high ankle sprains) and Eric Skoglund (arm tenderness) remained in Surprise isn’t known; even if they didn’t, the time off will give them more time to recover.
That’s all for this week. Please be careful and safe.