When it comes to Major League Baseball players there may not be an issue that matters to them as much as that of service time.
Players have seen service time manipulated and used against them by just about every owner and team. At the same time, players have seen their built-up service time allow them to enjoy the spoils of free agency. Knowing how much service time matters to the players it is not surprising that the topic has been front and center during all negotiations between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Over the past weekend, the full details of the agreement between MLB and the MLBPA came to light.
From those details one thing became clear: the MLBPA still does not understand or care about the concept of solidarity with minor leagues. MLB players are guilty of the same shortsighted thinking they usually attribute to the owners. At a time when it should be easy for the players to garner goodwill against the malicious and conniving owners the players took a look at every soon to be drafted minor leaguer, present minor leaguer, and future international signee and said, “You’re on your own, friends.”
It’s easy for those of us who write about the game of baseball, specifically MLB, to rag on the owners in article after article. The owners deserve all the derision that comes their way. The vitriol most of us harbor towards ownership is because we are viewing the exchanges between MLB and everyone else as an issue of solidarity. It is that solidarity that allows for non-union folk to have the same goals as those in a union. More importantly to the matter at hand, solidarity creates a situation where the MLB players get theirs while at the same time making sure that the MLB players to come are protected as well. Needless to say, the deal that gave current MLB players the service time concessions they desired is not an example of solidarity.
There isn’t a single protection for anyone but veteran MLB players in the service time victory the MLBPA achieved. At a crucial time when labor has been given an unprecedented chance to come together and show the owners of the means of production that things are about to change the MLBPA decided instead to look after themselves. Minor league players are still on their own while the retooled amateur draft and the now inevitable international draft did an incredible amount of harm to every prospective affiliated baseball player the world over.
Why did MLB veterans think that sacrificing any semblance of solidarity was important? Service time and the ability to have big offseasons of free agency in the years to come.
What is especially puzzling is that the deal the players took is beholden to free agency operating the same as it did before the shutdown. There’s a chance there’s no affiliated baseball in 2020, maybe this shutdown lasts into 2021. If either of those come true then free-agency will be altered to a form that none of us can predict. Big-name MLB players may not get their huge free agent paydays and they still sacrificed the future of affiliated baseball in the process.
Service time is important, but solidarity is so much more of an important ideal. MLB players had a chance to show the true power of labor and stick up for players who needed their help. I understand why the veteran MLB players ended up only looking out for themselves. That doesn’t leave me any less disappointed by their lack of solidarity. Until the members of the MLBPA realize that short term gains don’t matter next to the monstrous machine that is MLB and the owners they will continue to lose long term.