The last time we wrote a screed against collusion it was to defend (for the umpteenth time) the honor of Barry Bonds. A year later, we're talking about it because new MLBPA head Michael Weiner is accusing owners of colluding through new ways: the media we all love and trust so much.
Weiner accuses anonymous club officials of whining to the newspapermen about the lack of money available to spend on free agents this winter and their inability to spend dollars on salary arbitration with their own players, thus creating the illusion that baseball teams are bankrupt and incapable of paying Matt Holliday his just desserts.
He cited an ESPN blog item by Buster Olney that implied teams would be cutting loose a bunch of veteran players to flood the market, thus depressing demand for the services of the rest of the free agent players and creating a situation that was far more favorable to the teams. This would be similar to Drew, Dmac, Kris, and I creating twenty more baseball blogs that printed recipes for baked goods and showed babies in animal costumes. What value would there be for WoW in that case?
"I don't think it's an accident that in recent weeks, management officials, without attribution, have been making predictions about what's going to happen in this year's free-agent market," Weiner said. "There have been predictions about the [money] players will get, what players will be offered [salary] arbitration and what players will be non-tendered [contracts].
"If we could prove there was a plan by management to use the press to try to depress free-agent salaries, in our view that would be a violation of our contract," he said.
Some folks might cast an incredulous sneer at Weiner for using the C-word and DARING to question the sanity of poor baseball teams for opting to be frugal in these dire days of downturn and dread.. But c'mon! Baseball has never been more popular or more profitable while teams are finding brand new revenue streams in every virtual nook and cranny. To associate the high salaries of players with the greed of the owners is simply misplacing one's displeasure with the 'system'.
Baseball players are just like you and me, except with exceptional talent, millions of dollars, and the adoration of fans everywhere. All I have is the talent and adoration! I digress: they deserve to make an honest buck, too, and whether that's 20 million bucks or 600,000 bucks, it's well-deserved.
There is a perception by most fans that player salaries are directly related to the amount of money it costs them to attend a ballgame. While salaries make up a vast portion of expenditures of the typical MLB team, the fact that your favorite team is lowering their payroll by 20% does not mean that your 20 ounces of foamy American lager is going to drop from $7.50 to $6.00. These things are not related.
At the tip of the so-called Xtreme Depression in the spring of 2008, the average ticket prices went up 10%. This past spring, right in the midst of the Xtreme Depression, the average ticket prices still went up 5%, with only a handful of teams slicing prices by more than 7%. Yet baseball attendance between 2008 and 2009 dipped by only 6%, much of which can be written off by reduced capacity in the two new stadiums in baseball's biggest market.
There are definitely teams struggling financially and in no reason should they be criticized for circling the wagons and taking new approaches towards the changes in the economy. Lowering ticket prices and putting deals out there (like the Brewers did last year) should be step one, but purposely cutting payroll and refusing to field a competitive team in the name of a recession is simply ridiculous. For baseball teams to feign a lack of interest in the handful of big names on the market is simply dishonest.
But hey, maybe I just wanted a chance to show you a baby in a money bag.