Kovacevic: Union on Pirates’ payroll, AB/Bell idiocy, Bjugstad’s rise


To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Bryce Harper, last summer at PNC Park. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

DALLAS -- Tony Clark, head of Major League Baseball's Players Association, doesn't get it.

Neither does anyone at Major League Baseball itself, I might add.

Earlier this week, Clark made his annual visit to the Pirates' clubhouse in Bradenton, Fla., to meet with the players he's paid to represent. He does that with all 30 teams through spring training, committing a day to each, continuing a longstanding tradition for the union chief. And after the meeting, he'll have an audience with the reporters on hand, most of whom cover the team at hand. In each case, it's a chance to make sure his players' best interests are heard and, in turn, known.

It would appear to have been a pristine opportunity to make one hell of a statement.

Because, of all 30 teams, only one shamefully whacked its player payroll down from $91,825,061 in 2018 to the current opening-day projection of $69 million. Because, of all 30 teams, only one will spend less, and that's the virtually homeless Rays. Because, of all 30 teams, only one recently shrugged off a 98-win season by adding Ryan Vogelsong and a couple other cheap reinforcements. Because, of all 30 teams, only one is owned by Bob Nutting, who's now, with Jeffrey Loria gone from Miami, baseball's most prominent symbol for prioritizing profit over winning.

And what did Clark bring to Bradenton?

“In an industry that’s growing," he told the reporters there this week, "seeing upwards of two-thirds of the payrolls being lower than what they were last year is a concern."

That was it. Beginning and end. He first generalized the response, then punctuated it with a whimper.

And when asked about that hollow grievance the union filed 13 months ago against the Pirates, Rays, Marlins and Athletics, Clark's one-word reply was that it's "ongoing."

Is it any wonder Rob Manfred and everyone in the commissioner's office is running roughshod over Clark and the union?

Is it any wonder that Nutting and Frank Coonelly are free to profiteer as they please, without fear of repercussion?

Their only conceivable counterpart in this equation has been pathetically meek for years. The commissioner and owners can collude, conspire, keep down pay — even as this $10 billion industry continues to grow — and the worst they'll have to absorb from Clark is that he's got "a concern."

Manfred to Coonelly on the phone, probably: "Hey Frank, did you hear?"

Coonelly: "Hear what, old friend?"

Manfred: "It's Tony. He's got a 'concern.' "

Coonelly: "A 'concern?' Oh, no."

Manfred: "Yeah, a 'concern.' "

Coonelly: " ... "

Manfred: "So ... "

Coonelly: "So, how's the golf game?"

The union's stance, one that goes back to the Donald Fehr days, is that they could never accept a salary floor because, in their view, doing so would be tantamount to accepting a salary cap. It would fly in the face, they insist, of their belief that the free, open market should dictate all players' salaries.

Which is demonstrably bunk, of course. All it does is make Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and a couple dozen others unimaginably wealthy while most of the rest play on the two-thirds of teams that are cutting. Whereas, in our continent's other three major sports, a cap ensures a fairer distribution of pay and fairer competition. And because of the latter, more markets generate interest and revenue.

Saddest of all in this scenario, other than Pittsburgh having its 133-year-old franchise held hostage in this regard, is that the players buy right into it. Even Jameson Taillon, as intelligent an individual as exists anywhere in professional sports, takes the soft route in his role as the team's union rep. They all do that. It's all about the free, open market, and never mind the malfeasance they witness with their own eyes in places like Pittsburgh.

People plot fan protests and prod the media to be more vocal. None of that will ever mean a whit. The union and the players are the only ones empowered to make a difference, and they've evidently got zero interest.

To continue reading, log into your account: