The ‘juice’ of the MLB power dynamic
David Kramer | Friday, February 19, 2021
All it took for the MLB to lose its integrity was a viral video about juice.
Amid the seemingly uncontainable spread of the coronavirus last summer, Major League Baseball executives became the laughing stock of the sports community at the hands of Andrew McCutchen, Phillies outfielder and outspoken ambassador for the MLB players’ union.
June 2020 brought yet another month without professional baseball, and with the invaluable window of opportunity for a viable regular season effectively closing, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred strove to implement a fiscally feasible plan. The primary point of contention for the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) arose in team executives’ proposal for how to allocate salaries in the shortened season. In their initial offer, league executives pushed for a sliding-scale pay structure in which high-salary players would take drastic pay cuts per game. Understandably, the MLBPA adamantly sought fully prorated pay, and a stalemate ensued.
Weeks later, the MLB sidestepped the players’ requests, instead proposing a 76-game season with 75% prorated pay for its players. The “adjusted” plan simply presented the same amount of guaranteed pay in new terms. The MLBPA saw right through it.
In a hilarious Twitter exchange, McCutchen made an absolute mockery of MLB executives by likening their dealings to a father potty training his young child with the promise of juice if they used the toilet. After the child gleefully complied, McCutchen smiled and stretched out his hand.
“Alright, buddy, here’s your water!”
Seeing his child’s obvious disappointment, McCutchen changed tactics.
“How about water in THIS cup,” he asked.
“What about water in a bottle? What about water in a coffee mug?”
It goes without saying that such an exchange greatly simplifies MLB team owners’ antics for comedic effect. But the truth of McCutchen’s stance lies in the harrowing mission for executives to shield their lack of compromise with thin nuances.
Only a season later, Rob Manfred finds himself in the middle of an unnecessary dispute quite like McCutchen’s viral video: the future of the designated hitter position in the National League.
A statement from the MLBPA reveals that the league’s latest proposal for operational changes in 2021 included a 154-game season, an expanded playoff structure, a delay of the regular season and spring training by nearly a month and a universal designated hitter position. Once again, the players’ union rejected the deal on account of salary concerns; team owners offered no salary protection in the event of further pandemic-related delays during the season.
The MLBPA shows widespread support for the expansion of the designated hitter position to the National League, and team executives almost unanimously agree. So why, oh why would such a rule change not take place in 2021?
The answer rehashes a systemic problem in Major League Baseball, the same problem that caused us to watch the majority of the 2020 regular season slip away before our very eyes. The MLB aggressively claws for strong positioning in its negotiations with the MLBPA, and it seeks to preserve such positioning all year until the next opportunity for a collective bargaining agreement presents itself. Expanding the DH position, while completely logical, is viewed as a critical bargaining chip for the MLB, one that it is willing to hold even at the expense of the league improving.
In reality, team executives have much to gain from adopting a universal DH. Allowing pitchers to focus on pitching and avoid their required at-bats would undoubtedly improve the health of entire staffs. Medical professionals and coaches have openly expressed concerns about pitchers being required to hit after debilitating injuries (see Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves).
The dramatic increase in strikeout rates across the league should punctuate the designated hitter conversation. National League pitchers — and worse yet, American League pitchers during interleague games — contribute such a disproportionate number of strikeouts to an already concerning trend. In the eyes of countless fans, strikeouts are boring.
If the league hopes for a stable future, the MLB’s obsession with the power dynamic between executives and players needs to stop. When dealing with rule changes that hold little to no financial bearing on the league, conversations should not be held under a financial lens. Personal pride must be swallowed and concessions must be made.
And for goodness’ sake, stop giving players and fans water when juice is all they want.