Major League Baseball is in trouble.
The owners’ efforts to leverage a player lockout to create a sense of urgency and get a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place has failed. On Tuesday, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that because the two sides failed to reach a deal by the second owner-fabricated deadline in as many days, the first two series of the year would be canceled.
This whole situation is exacerbated by the fact that the two sides really have no compulsion to compromise. The things the owners want run in direct conflict with what the players want, and vice versa. And while the players’ desires tend to line up more with what would improve the on-field product, that isn’t always the case. For instance, the players proposed a “ghost win” concept for an expanded playoff system that I don’t think any fan would really enjoy.
What’s missing here is a neutral party tasked with doing what’s best for the game.
One would think that baseball’s commissioner would fill this role, but that idea is laughable, at this point. He’s hired by the owners, paid by the owners, and quite clearly works only for the owners. So what the sport badly needs is an MLB Board of Directors.
What I’m proposing isn’t some weak group of advisors to the commissioner, or even a rules committee. This group would be a permanent mediator between the owners and the players to make sure that what’s best for the game is being considered.
The owners and the players would still negotiate for their two interests. Their leadership groups would still gather and make proposals to the other side. But in the end, the governing board would review proposals and decide what middle ground could be reached to keep the game moving forward. They would then create the official MLB proposal, and the two sides would accept it or negotiate with that middle ground instead of the opposite side.
So who would be on this Board of Directors?
To me, it would need to be an odd-numbered blend of the different groups that have a vested interest in the game of baseball. No current owners or players would be involved, but past executives like John Schuerholz could serve in a capacity there instead of as honorary members of a team’s front office. Players who had been retired for a certain number of years should also be involved. Veteran members of the baseball media should also have a seat at the table. I also really like the idea of having the fan voice represented, similar to the way the College Football Playoff committee has included individuals like Condoleezza Rice.
A choice would have to be made in terms of the commissioner’s role. He could continue to represent the owners’ interests as he does now, or he could become one member of the governing board. This would give the board a day-to-day operations perspective, but if he took that seat, the commissioner could not be part of the owners’ negotiating process.
If done correctly, this could drastically improve the way these negotiations happen. Frankly, the owners should not be able to outright dismiss the players’ requests for free agent restructuring and “super 2” expansion. Those are legitimate ideas and should be treated as such. But in the current dynamic, the owners know they can nix them because, honestly, no one can stop them. Yet the hostile negotiating environment that such moves creates is how we get to the point we are now.
If baseball doesn’t change that dynamic, I’m not sure how much longer the sport can avoid much darker days ahead.