In a press conference held at Tropicana Field on Thursday, commissioner Rob Manfred addressed several topics that have been in the news lately. Regarding teams tanking, Manfred said, “The clubs have conducted themselves in a manner that’s completely consistent with the agreement with the MLB,” as Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston reports. On pace of play rule changes, he said, “There are going to be rule changes with respect to pace of play for the 2018 season. You’ll know about those rule changes before we start playing spring training games.”
The big noteworthy quote, though, was about whether or not player salaries are rising in line with league revenues, a subject we’ve covered here a lot lately. Manfred said, “[Player] salaries are growing in line with revenues.” That is just flatly false.
At Deadspin last month, Emma Baccellieri posted a graph showing the players’ share of revenue between 1997-2017. The players’ share peaked in 2002 above 56 percent, but have been around 40 percent and lower for most of this decade. Baccellieri’s data corroborates the findings published by Nathaniel Grow at FanGraphs in March 2015.
Manfred knows he’s lying. So do the players and their agents. But, as Nick Stellini of Baseball Prospectus adroitly noted, Manfred is gearing up for a war with the players’ union that will be fought, in part, in public. His quote was aimed at the fans, who aren’t all going to fact-check him; who will take what he says at face value. So this talking point about the players’ declining share of league revenues changes, in the mind of some fans, from sympathetic to unsympathetic.
The union already has an uphill battle as the general public has historically greatly sided with ownership over the players. The MLBPA’s decision to keep the media out of the free agent spring training camp isn’t helping, and now the commissioner is behind the microphone trying to sway the public with an outright lie. This is going to get uglier before it gets better.