You asked me questions on Twitter. So I shall answer them.


The video version is coming later — you’ll want to watch it because I drop some Mormon theology on you, brotha — but for now, here are the ones that didn’t make the video cut:

Q: Bruins or Canucks?

Charlestown Chiefs. I’m pretty big into the Federal League.

Q: On the hipster scale, how much more hip do you feel now than in your old glasses?

I could give you an actual number on that scale, but it’s an obscure number that you’ve probably never heard of.

Q: What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?

In 2001, my wife and I traveled to Italy. While there, we had the freshest pesto imaginable at a cafe in Portofino, dined in no less then three fantastic restaurants in Tuscany and ate a home cooked meal made by my wife’s sister and her husband in their little Veneto village featuring polenta that God Almighty would praise as divine. But in the immortal words of the sadly mortal Humphrey Bogart, a hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.

Q: Bigger popularity contest: “most overrated player” or “All Star Game”?

Hard to say. We’ll see which one Derek Jeter has a better showing in before we decide.

Q: Has Bobby Cox been thrown out of anywhere lately? I miss him.

I’ve heard rumors that things got rowdy at the Stone Mountain Old Country Buffet last week. Fairly even odds that Cox used the magic words on the guy restocking the hot scalloped apples.

Q: Does anyone besides MLB Network Countdown think Jack Buck’s call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 HR was better than Vin Scully’s?

I’ve actually heard a fair amount of reasonable disagreement about this. I preferred Scully’s simply because I was watching it on TV and that’s the call I heard in real time. But in replays, Buck’s is pretty solid too.  Scully, due to the ability to be silent for a bit and let the crowd react, had more time to compose his in his mind. Buck’s was more spontaneous and captured the excitement a bit more.  I like ’em both.

Q: Al Alburquerque. Discuss.

We’ve covered this before. With that name, his future lies in either professional gambling, organized crime or unpainted furniture sales.

Q: Should reached on error count towards OBP?


Q: If you were to drop wOBA or FIP in a typical post, what percentage of your readers would know what you were saying?

More than you think because the readers around here are smart. That is, if I didn’t mangle the reference to wOBA or FIP in such a way as to totally confuse everyone. I’m a fellow traveler of the statheads, but really, I’m a statistical dilettante and anything specific I say in that area should be triple checked before you rely on it and then probably best ignored.

Q: If you had to pick one of the Braves’ post-Andruw center fielders, which one would you choose?

Depends what I’m picking them for. If I need someone to draw gunfire while I escape in the other direction any of them would do and I likely wouldn’t miss them. If I needed them to play actual baseball games I’d probably take Gregor Blanco because at least he knows how to take a friggin’ walk now and again.

Q: Paper or plastic?

The former for airplanes, the latter for Ono Bands.

Q: How much are you supposed to tip the guys who walk the food to your car when you order curbside?

Um, we’re supposed to tip those guys?

Q: Do you fear the possibility of Brian Wilson’s beard becoming so dark that light cannot escape its surface?

I fear no such thing, for I am Doctor Hans Reinhardt, commander of the USS Cygnus.

Q: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

African or European?

Q: My car broke down again today. Do they have stem cell treatments like Bartolo’s for Nissans?

Yes, but there is probably some automotive reporter who doesn’t understand how such treatments work and thus casts aspersions on them.

Q: You were watching Oceans Eleven too last night, weren’t you?

No. But in December 2003 and January 2004, there was a great convergence of forces in my life: (a) a newborn daughter; and (b) a free trial of HBO. The daughter did not sleep. Ever. And in those two months HBO did not stop showing “Ocean’s Eleven,” ever. Mookie and I went on a streak of something like 15 nights when she cried, I held her and we both watched “Ocean’s Eleven” while we tried to give my wife a couple hours of sleep. Of course, sometimes I cried too, but that was either due to sleep deprivation-induced delirium or the fact that the scene where the gang all gathers and watches the Bellagio fountains is somewhat touching compared to the previous two hours of cooler-than-thou ersatz Rat Pack irony.

OK, I forgot what we were talking about.  Oh well. We’ll pick up the thread next week.  Thanks for the questions everyone.

How The Players Union Got Into This Mess

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Earlier today, in the pitch clock post, I took some shots at the Players Union and its priorities. Earlier this afternoon I tweeted something about how, for all practical purposes, the luxury tax is a salary cap, with the implication that the union had, through either negligence or obliviousness, allowed the owners to impose the sort of payroll restrictions that past union leadership and membership had fought against, tooth and nail. The same can be said for other things depressing the free agency market like qualifying offers.

In the wake of those sentiments, voiced both today and in the past, people have asked me whether I think the union can or will do anything to push back in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Whether I think they’ll snap back to the footing they had in the 1980s and 1990s when they didn’t allow themselves to get outflanked on both the bedrock pocketbook issues in the game and on the smaller stuff, like the pitch clock. My gut answer: I doubt that the union can do so. At least not quickly.

First off, it’s worth pointing out that the owners beating the players in the last few CBA negotiations is not due to some sudden change in tactics or some stroke of strategic genius. It’s been gradual, with a couple of factors at work.

One factor is that, over the past several CBAs — going back to back to 2002 or so — conditions have been pretty darn good. Money has been flowing into the game and the attendant labor peace has been nice an pleasant. No one wants to spend all of their time on a war footing, and with general financial prosperity prevailing, the vigilance of the union and its membership on bedrock pocketbook issues has understandably waned.

At the same time, the owners have gotten a lot more sophisticated in the way they’ve advanced their agenda. They used to try to do pretty dramatic things in one fell swoop, such as their efforts to implement a salary cap in the mid-90s or their over-the-top threats of contracting teams in the early 2000s. The collusion on the late 1980s was some pretty amateur-level and obvious Bond villain stuff too. All of those things caused the MLBPA to go to Defcon 1, unite and fight. The owners stopped doing that stuff in the 2000s, coincidentally or not, around the time Rob Manfred’s star rose as baseball’s chief negotiator. He’s a smart dude and he and the rest of baseball’s top brass have worked incrementally and subtly to chip away at the players’ share of baseball’s bounty.

As the players have, in the aggregate, and certainly at the top of the scale, grown richer, and as the threats presented by the owners have appeared to be less existential, they’ve lowered their defenses. Part of the lowering of defenses is that they’ve moved away from wartime consiglieres, as it were. Marvin Miller and Don Fehr were blunt instruments. The sorts of blunt instruments you need when your very existence is on the line. When wars end, however, blunt instruments aren’t always welcome. As it is, one wonders how players relate, on a day-to-day basis, to a labor lawyers who are wired like those guys were wired. When you get the sense that, maybe, you don’t really need blunt instruments like them, you look to someone like Tony Clark.

I like Tony Clark. I’ve spoken with him a couple of times and interviewed him once and came away with a good feeling about him. I know some people who know him better and who have worked with him and, obviously, I’ve read a lot about him. He’s an impressive man and you can see what the players see in him. He’s smart and he has a presence and a charisma about him. You’d leave your kids with him or trust him to watch over your business affairs if need be.

I suspect — based on what I’ve read about and observed from players over the years — that they liked Tony Clark ascending to the role because he can relate to them. He was a player. He spoke their language. While Don Fehr may have been who the players needed on that wall when the enemy attacked, Clark knows, way better, how the less life-or-death issues facing membership cut. Fehr will fight about financial matters which a lot of players may only understand on a superficial level. Clark makes players feel like one of their own is watching their back when it comes to stuff like days off during the season and how many bus trips veterans have to take during spring training or whatever.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with this. While I and some other looney lefties of the baseball writing world get pretty worked up about how the luxury tax operates or how qualifying offers impact a given free agent, it’s not our union. It’s the players’ union. If their priorities change with changing times, those are the priorities that the union has to address. If players are happy making the money they make, it is not our place to say that they shouldn’t give a crap about the more day-to-day issues about which Tony Clark may have more expertise and about which he can best speak with both union members and ownership.

The problem comes if and when the players do decide that the pendulum has swung too far in the owners’ favor on those big financial issues. How do you suddenly change tactics and fight back when you don’t have a blunt instrument at your disposal?

Ultimately, the players have a nuclear option: to strike. Or, at the very least, to pose a credible threat to strike. They have a seat at the table and are a part of every CBA negotiation, but striking or credibly threatening to strike is their ultimate card to play. It’s not a pleasant option. It turns the players into villains in the eyes of fans and the press, costs them money and keeps them from doing their favorite thing in the world, which is, duh, playing baseball. But that’s the power they have, and both using that power and threatening credibly to use that power has proved to be pretty dang effective for them over the years.

To pose a credible threat to strike, the union has to present a unified front. There has to be solidarity among membership with all of them, whether they relish the prospect of fighting with ownership or not, being willing to do so if certain pre-determined lines are crossed. It takes a LOT of work to create that level of solidarity and to forge that unified front. Marvin Miller worked his tail off for years, tirelessly and far-from-glamorously, to get all of the players on the same page — to get them willing to fight that nuclear war if necessary — before he could do the stuff he did in the 1970s and early 80s which made the MLBPA what it eventually became.

People who criticize Tony Clark say that he’s not a good union head because he’s not a labor lawyer and can’t fight like labor lawyers can fight. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t think that’s the real issue. Clark and the MLBPA have a lot of labor lawyers on the payroll, and all of them can fight with the best of them. What they cannot do is go into a fight without that nuclear missile in their back pocket. Without the solidarity of union membership and without that unified front that will, if need be, strike or make a credible threat to strike, those labor lawyers are fighting without ammunition. If the players decide to do something about the luxury tax or qualifying offers or anything else that fundamentally alters the financial agreements between players and owners, it’ll be a pretty major change of course for them. It’ll mean disrupting the (owner-friendly) consensus that has formed on these issues over the past 15 years. It’s going to take a big fight. And winning that fight is going to require that the union have its strongest weapon available.

Nothing I’ve seen from the Tony Clark suggests to me that he could immediately and effectively muster that sort of consensus and solidarity. Rather than push the players into positions that, however uncomfortable for them, may benefit them in the long run, Clark has listened to the players and worked to help them get what they want now. Which, as I said before, is totally fine, as a union head needs to listen to membership as much as he leads. He works for the players and they have not, recently, shown much in the way of urgency when it comes to stuff like the luxury tax or qualifying offers.

To get to a place where they can fight back effectively on those issues will require changing the overall mindset of union membership, and that’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take educating team union reps who, in turn, persuade their teammates of the importance of the issues. It’s going to take players who may not personally benefit from a change to the current rules — studs who will get paid regardless and journeyman for whom a qualifying offer would represent a life-changing payday — to be on the same page and work for a common cause. At the end of that process, everyone will have to agree that, if they can’t get what they want, they’ll threaten to strike. If they half-ass any of that work, ownership will see right through them and won’t take them seriously.

I have a lot of respect for Tony Clark, but nothing I’ve seen since he’s taken over as the Executive Director of the MLBPA suggests to me that he can do that in the next three years or so before the next CBA is to be negotiated. I suspect it will take a blunter instrument. Until he can show that he can be that blunt instrument or until the players decide to hire someone who can, the status quo is going to persist.