The MLB Lock-Blame Game: Why Fans Often Side with Owners in a Labor Dispute

Baseball’s first shutdown since the controversial 1994-1995 strike – a rift that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and a 144-game schedule in 1995 – has arrived. .

The collective bargaining agreement agreed to by MLB owners and the MLB Players Association in 2016 expired on Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m. ET and commissioner Rob Manfred and his owners immediately after locking the player. Both the failure to reach an agreement and the lockdown were predictable developments; It has long been known that the parties are far apart on many issues at the table.

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Here’s another development that won’t come as a surprise, if history is any guide: The players will shoulder the lion’s share of anger, criticism and hostility from the team’s fans. baseball is angry about stopping the game. The players will not win the public relations war.

“I know from my own experience,” Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine told The Sporting News during the World Series, “has been through a few layoffs and is in the players union and is a big guy. vilified, people will always say, ‘These greedy players! If given the chance, I will play for free. It’s a kids game! ‘”

Glavine, who often spoke out publicly in support of the MLBPA’s position during the 1994-1995 pause, was so vilified by baseball fans that he was booed in his own ballpark during the strike. publicity ended, even though he was already a popular and successful figure in Atlanta Baseball History, pitching for eight years for the Braves and finishing first, second, and third in the NL Cy Young poll for three full seasons. enough before.

And yet, the boos began when he went out to the cowshed to warm up on April 27, 1995. He was not alone. Pirates runner-up Jay Bell, another active player at the MLBPA, was booed at home on Opening Day. White Sox midfielder Mike Devereaux was hit in the head with beer outside, at home. Of course, the fans weren’t happy with the owners either, but the players were the main target of the rage.

But, and maybe this is a simple question: Why?

Motivation problem

Why does the default position of so many fans seem to blame the “greedy” players rather than the bosses? What is the reason behind that? To help understand the answer, TSN asked Susan K. Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has researched and written about the psychology of sports fans.

The answer starts with dueling concepts: intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

“Intrinsic motivation,” says Whitbourne, “is what we put in players when we think, ‘They do it because they love the game. ” And internally it’s, ‘They’re doing it because they’re getting paid.’ When you start focusing on people getting paid for something they love, putting a dollar sign on it just changes it.”

Of course, fans know that most players are paid big sums of money. But when you’re watching a baseball game, that’s easy to put aside while you’re enjoying a sport you played as a kid. You are just watching a sports competition, simple and pure. When the game stops – or, in this case, when the off-season Hot Kitchen season ends – that illusion disappears.

“It’s a dose of reality that most people don’t want to argue about,” says Whitbourne.

It’s a mind-changing drug.

“It’s called Motivational Crowding Out,” says Whitbourne. “When you do something because you love it, like a kid plays a sport because they love it, and then you start getting rewards for something you love, it starts to bring more commercial aspect. It’s called Motivational Crowding Out because the outside overwhelms the inside, which begins to be. “

This work stoppage will not be as severe as the 1994-1995 strike. At the time, the owners insisted on imposing a salary cap, and the players refused. Neither side budged for months, and baseball fans watched that strike last for 232 days. There is no such singular problem this time.

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But there are some problems, and most of the changes are driven by the players.

“Players have seen their financial situation deteriorate over the last few cycles, and especially in the last few years, as the average player salary has fallen, which is unprecedented for a player. MLB,” said Nathaniel Grow, an associate professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, who has written extensively on baseball CBA topics and issues for several years. “In that group is service time manipulation, which helps bring up some of the pay issues.”

“The players don’t think they’re getting a fair shake, it’s a fair general consensus. The question becomes, where are they going and how do they try to improve their financial situation? ”

These CBA negotiations are the time to fight for changes. Two of the players on the eight-player MLBPA executive subcommittee – Max Scherzer and Marcus Semien – are free agents and signed huge contracts in the days before the deadline passed. Scherzer, now 37, signed a three-year contract with an average annual value of $43.3 million per season to play for the Mets. Semien, 31, signed a $175 million contract with Rangers for seven years.

So yeah, many people have asked, “How could Max Scherzer want to shut down the sport when he’s just signed for $43 million a year?”

Of course, it’s not that simple.

“There are different interests among that broader membership,” says Grow. “Yes, there are better players out there who should raise the minimum wage and shorten refereeing and all that, and let’s sacrifice something so Mike Trouts and Gerrit Coles don’t make a lot of money. But that was never the union’s MO. Union has always been a ‘high tide lifting all the boats’, with a focus on free management and getting the best players paid, and that will subside through the refereeing process. equivalent salary and all that. “

Unequal familiarity

But the question raises a bigger problem: Players like Scherzer are known quantities. They are the faces of baseball, people with HD cameras that focus on their every move, people written about in newspapers and on the web. They are people fans follow on social media accounts, people fans feel like they know.

Fans are drawn into the world of the players.

But the owners – well, aside from the Mets’ new top boss?

“In a way, the owner is the owner. They’re running a business, so they’re considered doing their job,” Whitbourne said. “I’m sure there are some people who look down on the owners, but the majority of people identify with the players, see the players, feel like they’re players, feel like the players are doing the right thing. it’s for the love of the game, and when it’s obvious that they’re doing it for the money, yeah, you feel like, ‘Why would I put my trust in this person?’ You expect that from an owner, but not from a player. “

And that familiarity isn’t just about Instagram accounts or watching games on the MLB app or on TV. Here’s another key element of the equation: Everyone knows exactly how much a player earns. Cot’s Baseball Contracts is a must-have for baseball writers and fans; you can instantly see how much money any baseball player is earning and how much he earns each year of his career. Does his contract have an opt-out option? Club options? Voting option? Performance bonus?

All is fine there. The owners? Not much.

“Looking at the owner and seeing his books is a lot harder, trusting the books to be accurate, and being able to make an assessment of what the owner really made. Again, in my day, that was a big point of contention and a big part of animosity: There was no trust between players and owners,” Glavine said. “There is no credence for what their books say. In fact, they wouldn’t let us see their books. We famously have several owners who say to us privately, ‘With a good accountant you can make $4 million that sounds like a million dollars loss overnight.’ It’s hard to really believe what you’re being told. But for players, there’s no guesswork. You get the Google Tom Glavine salary and it’s there, right there. There’s nothing hidden about it, nothing left to guess. That’s what it is.”

That difference is important.

“It all goes back to the guise of the relative mystery that an owner enjoys, and the players out there, exposed,” says Whitbourne. “We immediately identified with them. It was reminded that, ‘They do it not because they love me, but because they get paid.’ You will turn them on. Logically, you can tell they’re doing the right thing for themselves, but it’s hard to remove the emotional recognition aspect of it.”

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So that raises another question: With all of that being said, can the players get the fans to side with them in a labor dispute? Glavine used to think so.

“Looking back from my experience, if there was one mistake I made, it was it. I never turn down an interview, for the most part, and I know that’s part of the reason people hate me so much, because they’ve seen me a lot,” he said. “I was very naive. I felt like, ‘Okay, every interview I do is an opportunity’ and I’m going to make someone see what we’re doing and I’m going to change someone’s mind. And that’s not going to happen, you know? People, they’re on our side or they’re on the owner’s side. I don’t think a lot of people change their mind, and that’s a personal mistake, I think I can. ”

He stopped.

“I guess my answer to your question is I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know how you’re going to try to win that battle or if you can even do it.”

It’s probably not worth expending energy to win that battle.

Last year, part at review attendance and broadcast metrics before and after the strike. Attendance dropped slightly shortly after a two-week strike during the 1972 season, but rose again the following year. In 1981, when the strike split the season into messy halves, attendance in the season dropped that year, but rose again, above 1980 levels, in 1982.

Both of those stops are zero compared to the 1994 -955 stop. Attendance rates plummeted and took years to return to pre-strike levels. But interest rates? That remains high, as evidenced by the 1995 World Series; 4 million more people watched that series than the 1993 World Series.

“Eventually the fan base more or less returned to them,” Whitbourne said, “but it was a painful period.”

Oh, and the Atlanta fans welcomed Glavine back with their kind kindness. That probably doesn’t affect that, in his final start in 1995, he hit the full eight rounds in Game 6 of the World Series, helping the Braves win their first championship. theirs in Atlanta.

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