Alex Rodriguez was the wrong messenger.
In a conference call Thursday, Rodriguez recommended players accept a revenue-sharing plan before attempting a clarifying tweet Friday that he “never mentioned the word salary cap.”
A-Rod often has trouble with words, including that salary cap is not a “word,” but two of them. He also has difficulty with self-awareness, else he would have understood the third rail he was going to touch with his stance.
After all, perhaps no player in history benefited more than A-Rod from both unfettered salary bidding (he made more than $440 million) and union protection. Now trying to buy the Mets, Rodriguez was pushing a system that would fix costs for owners.
If Rodriguez’s history of self-interest keeps you from providing any benefit of the doubt, understood. But the wrong messenger does not make the message totally incorrect. I have no doubt that Rodriguez loves baseball and — silly me, probably — I think he was trying to be a problem-solver. For he also mentioned this is not 26 years ago when MLB did not play a World Series and still managed in the subsequent seasons to return to record attendance and ever-rising revenues.
He advocated that MLB and the players association should be discussing sharing revenue as a way to have mutual interest to grow revenues, “instead of fighting and fighting against each other because there’s too much competition out there right now.” The message about the infighting and the competition was right, regardless of who the messenger was.
The common enemy for now is COVID-19, but on a better day for the planet the mutual enemy for MLB and the players will again become that competition from elsewhere of which A-Rod spoke. From e-sports and soccer and so many other forms of entertainment beyond just the monster that is the NFL and the global power that is the NBA.
MLB and the players association did not do well uniting against COVID-19. They fought over every cent to the detriment of all us, as if this were the last season ever of baseball. Fans were angry in real time at this tact, in part because there were no live sports to distract them from the bickering.
Most have moved on already, and once Max Scherzer throws the first pitch of the 2020 season Thursday night, that will push the bickering even further into the background. If the season is completed, the financial dispute will become a large footnote to this season.
Still, there was loss here. In time and in any bonding to work jointly on innovations and modernization. Fans learned to live without baseball for four months. Already MLB was having difficulty with a younger demographic not overly keen on the pace of this sport.
MLB and the players association are not going to revenue share. The union will never see that term as anything more than a slippery slope to a salary cap — a forever nonstarter. MLB isn’t going to agree to share revenues without restrictions the union will find unacceptable.
But why not take a baby step? How about share in an area or two to see how it works? How about if MLB is able to monetize players wearing on-field microphones and/or get, say, a streaming service to buy behind-the-scenes (think “Hard Knocks”) shows on teams and/or an app created for greater fan interaction with their favorite players.
What if the sides shared that 50-50. All of that would enhance the fan experience and grow the game. It also might foster a greater sense of cooperation and (gasp) trust with the collective bargaining agreement due to expire after next season. Why not try an exercise in not only making money, but perhaps building bridges?
The players have reason to want to create more financial channels. They have received lower percentages of MLB revenues every year since the 51.1 percent of 2015 down to 48.5 and 46.7 the past two years. Many agents, players and union officials blame collusion. If so, I hope the union can prove it and soak billions in damages out of the owners.
What I am sure about is that a collusive philosophy has ensnared the game. The analytics revolution has brought a groupthink of efficiency on every penny. Cold-blooded thinking has drained emotion from decision making.
The veteran player who front offices used to feel name-brand affinity toward for leadership or his fan appeal is now often replaced by a younger player or players at a fraction of the cost. So players who would have received enough to keep going in the past, such as James Shields and Denard Span, are essentially retired by the sport.
Prime-aged stars will continue to do well. But the efficiency model is not changing. Even with Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg signing mega-deals last offseason, total player compensation was not projected to budge much from last year even without the pandemic. Expect further choking of the middle-class player and those in their 30s. The days of exceeding 50 percent of revenues like 2013-17 are likely gone.
So the players should be looking to ulterior ways to grow the pie. Owners should fully embrace sharing new pieces of the pie with the players. Who knows, maybe soon they will be united in fighting the common enemy, which sometime soon will again be short attention spans, the current fan base aging out and hundreds of other entertainment alternatives.