|Wednesday, August 21
Updated: August 22, 5:42 PM ET
Strike is no longer necessary
By Joe Morgan
Special to ESPN.com
Every union, not just the MLB Players Association, has good reasons to strike. The reasons normally arise from issues such as safety, working conditions, monetary ability and ideology. Otherwise, a strike is unnecessary.
And because the past reasons no longer exist and have been replaced only by a business decision, there should never be another baseball strike.
I was involved in baseball's first strike in 1972. At the time, the players were under the owners' thumbs. Player salaries were non-negotiable. We were told what we would be paid -- end of discussion. Safety was a big concern because the outfield walls weren't padded. Commercial travel was also an issue because many times the traveling team had to sit in an airport for hours waiting for connecting flights before playing a game. There were also questions about progressive change and how to move the game forward.
The union felt it had strong reasons to strike. And as a result of the 13-day work stoppage, the outfield walls were padded; the teams traveled on charters and jets; arbitration was introduced to address salary discrepancies; and committees were formed to interpret rule changes, with both parties having input. In effect, the issues were resolved.
Now, all that is left to debate are the numbers. Business people should always be able to work out numbers, because numbers are derived from formulas and should never change. If it's a case of one party thinking red and the other thinking blue, a resolution may not be reached. But the baseball labor talks are all about the bottom line and how to come to specific numbers.
During the strikes that followed the first, the players said they were acting on behalf of future players because the players in 1972 did it for them. In some cases, that was true. Ensuing strikes were caused by the first one in an effort to get better wages for young players so they could enjoy a better major-league lifestyle.
Baseball, however, has reached a point where it is no longer necessary for today's players to fall on the sword for tomorrow's players. The only item of importance is how to divide around $3 billion. It's a business fight, not one based on ideology. Any time it's a matter of business, both sides should be able to make a decision.
In 1972, the owners wanted a salary cap, and the players said no. Discussion of a cap was always a deal breaker. When I first came to the big leagues, former MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller always preached that the players did not want a salary cap.
As I've said in the past, to make it happen, the words "salary cap" had to be changed for something to get done. So now "salary cap" has been changed to "luxury tax" because a luxury tax is sort of a salary cap. At least that's what it is meant to be. And the players have agreed to it.
By allowing for a luxury tax and for revenue sharing, players are basically agreeing with the owners that the monetary system needs to change. The players are happy with the status quo, but they realize the status quo may not be good for the game. So they have made concessions on things they fought to gain in the past.
That's one thing that has pleased me about the players. Their slogan could be, "We are not asking for anything." They just want to be treated fairly and to not give up on too much of what they gained from past negotiations.
Moving from the idea of no salary cap to a modified cap in the form of a luxury tax, the players have already given a lot. Therefore, it is unfair to blame the players. They have come a long way in realizing the industry's problems and helping the owners solve them.
The players and owners know there is a luxury-tax number they can both live with, whether it is a 50-percent tax for payrolls over $102 million or a 30-percent tax for payrolls over $130 million or somewhere in between. A computer can derive the right formula to suit their needs.
Last week there was widespread optimism that both sides were close to a deal. They were -- until a segment of owners reneged and declined to accept a compromise. They called Bud Selig and asked for more in the agreement, and that is why the two sides are at odds once again.
I believe there will not be a strike, and I would be shocked if one occurred. In past strikes, one side always felt it had more to lose than the other. That is why sometimes the players forced a strike and at other times the owners forced one. In this case, both sides have too much to lose.
When we were ready to go on strike in 1972, the players were calculating how much money they would lose. I remember Hal McRae telling me, "Joe, nothing from nothing means nothing. I'm not making anything, so it won't mean anything." Both parties stood to lose only a small amount of money 30 years ago. Now there is too much at stake, with million of dollars potentially being flushed down the drain.
Here's the problem: The owners need to come together as a unit. They must decide they want to reach an agreement. First, however, the owners need to stop blaming George Steinbrenner for their problems. Steinbrenner is not the culprit. He has played within the system, one the owners created, which is indicative of where the problems really lie.
Hostility, though, has often gotten in the way of past agreements. There used to be players who hated the owners and tried to hurt them, but Miller didn't hate the owners. He was a great negotiator who was always looking to strike a deal. He was strong enough to keep his personal likes and dislikes about the negotiators out of the meetings.
I was never a player representative during my career. But in February of 1976, before the owners locked us out, Marvin called me and asked if I would fly to the meetings in Tampa, Fla. He needed me and a few other players there as a voice of reason to the players who strongly opposed the owners.
After listening to a few speak, I said, "Am I to understand that we're here not to make a deal, but to punish the owners?" We then changed the tone of the meeting, and Marvin later thanked me for coming.
Now, the players are more unified, working more toward an agreement. However, there still remains a group of owners that wants to break the players' union. While I think they realize it can't be broken, they still want to punish the union and to push for radical change. If that segment continues to be the dominant voice on the owners' side, the potential for a work stoppage still exists.
One thing to always remember: The players are the game. Without the players, there is no game. The fans know it, but that truth seems to be lost on the hard-core owners. Hopefully, for the good of the game, they will come to their senses before Aug. 30.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is the analyst on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.