The Cubs grounds crew was short staffed because the Cubs were trying to avoid Obamacare

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This story keeps on giving.

Yesterday when the Cubs defended their grounds crew’s efforts during Tuesday night’s debacle against the Giants, the team noted that they had sent home many of the grounds crew workers earlier in the day. They made it sound as if it were standard operating procedure to do so. But the Chicago Sun-Times reports that there was a bit more to the team’s staffing decisions:

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

That’s the full-time worker definition under “Obamacare,” which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for “big businesses” such as a major league team.

The Sun-Times article quotes anonymous officials from other teams which characterize the Cubs’ move in this regard as “cheap” and short-sighted.

Take this for what it’s worth, but the Cubs were deemed baseball’s most profitable team in 2013 and its owners are well-known partisan Republicans with a decidedly anti-Obama tilt. If there’s a team which is going to go out of its way to avoid having to pay Obamacare benefits, it’s not shocking that the Cubs are that team. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing likely depends on your political persuasion, of course.

Whether other teams have done this is unknown. Whether even twice as many grounds crew members could’ve fixed the problem in time on Tuesday is also unknown, as once a tarp is laden with water, it’s impossible for almost any number of people to move it. The head count — as opposed to the manner in which the tarp was rolled and unrolled — may have been irrelevant.

Of course, I am curious what those readers who have been on my case for pointing out that mistakes were made on Tuesday — readers who accused me of picking on poor blue collar workers in all of this — feel about a team cutting hours in order to not have to pay worker benefits.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts continues to cry poor

Tom Ricketts
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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MLB owners and the MLB Players Association continue to hash out details, some in public, about a 2020 baseball season. The owners have been suggesting a shorter season, claiming that they lose money on every game played without fans in attendance. The union wants a longer season, since players are — as per the March agreement — being paid a prorated salary. Players thus make more money over the 114 games the MLBPA suggested than the 50 or so the owners want.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has been among the more vocal owners in recent weeks, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of MLB has greatly hurt MLB owners’ business. Speaking to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts claimed, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Ricketts said, “Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand. Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.” Ricketts continued, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Pertaining to Ricketts’ claim that “the league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Forbes reported in December that, for the 17th consecutive season, MLB set a new revenue record, this time at $10.7 billion. In accounting, revenues are calculated before factoring in expenses, but unless the league has $10 billion in expenses, I cannot think of a way in which Ricketts’ statement can be true.

MLB owners notably don’t open their accounting books to the public. Because the owners were crying poor during negotiations, the MLBPA asked them to provide proof of financial distress. The owners haven’t provided those documents. Thus, unless Ricketts opens his books, his claim can be proven neither true nor false, and should be taken with the largest of salt grains. If owners really are hurting as badly as they say they are, they should be more than willing to prove it. That they don’t readily provide that proof suggests they are being misleading.

It’s worth noting that the Ricketts family has a history of not being forthcoming about their money. Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts got into hot water last year after it was found he had used inaccurate information when paying property taxes. In 2007, he bought two properties and demolished both, building a new, state-of-the-art house. For years, Ricketts used information pertaining to the older, demolished property rather than the current property, which drastically lowered his property taxes. Based on the adjustment, Ricketts’ property taxes increased from $828,000 to $1.96 million for 2019, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ricketts also had to pay back taxes for the previous three years.

At any rate, the owners want to pass off the financial risk of doing business onto their labor force. As we have noted here countless times, there is inherent risk in doing business. Owning a Major League Baseball team has, for decades, been nearly risk-free, which has benefited both the owners and, to a lesser extent, its workforce. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, but the financial losses these last three months are part of the risk. Furthermore, when teams have done much better business than expected, the owners haven’t benevolently spread that wealth out to their players, so why should the players forfeit even more of their pay than they already are when times are tough?