Baseball’s Interested Observers | News, Sports, Jobs


CHICAGO — Allen Sanderson grew up in Idaho. He played high school baseball and worked for a minor league team in Twin Falls, where he drove Dick Allen home long before he became a feared hitter with the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s part of how Sanderson, a longtime baseball fan, views baseball’s industrial struggle. But he also accompanies her from a different perspective, that of a sports economist at the University of Chicago.

“What is the correct split between the owners and the player? How much should the players get? How much should the owners get?” said Sanderson. “There is no right answer to this question. It may well be that you make French fries or something similar at McDonald’s. There is probably a correct answer to this question, what is a reasonable amount to make in a competitive market.

“But once you’re in the sports world or the entertainment world, you know all bets are on. It largely depends on how well I can negotiate our side in the process.”

That last bit isn’t going very well right now, not for Major League Baseball or their locked out players.

Baseball’s ninth work stoppage reached 96 days on Monday, and MLB told the union that Tuesday was the last possible day to reach an agreement that would allow for a 162-game schedule and full pay and tenure.

It is the sport’s first labor dispute to result in games being canceled since the 1994-95 strike wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Negotiations broke down last week after nine days of talks in Jupiter, Fla., and commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first two series of the season for each team, 91 games in total.

As the sides try to find a way forward in hopes of getting baseball back on the field, some industrial relations and sports business experts are watching the dispute from an academic perspective.

“I see it through the lens of tariffs” said Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at the Buffalo Co-Lab at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School.

“The lens, I do a lot of training for unions on negotiation and how to negotiate, so I keep an eye on everything when it comes to contract terms.”

Manfred, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman each graduated from the ILR School at Cornell.

When Wheaton looks at the baseball talks, he sees a process bogged down by a complicated mix of audiences that includes owners of markets large and small, players of varying salaries, and agents attempting to conduct the negotiations indirectly from afar to influence.

“If there is collective bargaining where everyone on the company side and everyone on the union side are trying to resolve the difference, that’s a lot better than all the different owners pushing their own buttons and also all the different agents trying to change it,” said Wheaton, a Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox fan who follows baseball more closely when it comes to the postseason.

“Collective means working together and that’s what I think broke down here.”

Wheaton also had trouble with what he called “Appointment Negotiations”, Waiting until the last minute for substantive negotiations in hopes of creating big movement. After Major League Baseball locked out its players in early December, the teams did not meet again until January 13.

“It’s not an unusual tactic. I just don’t find it a very helpful tactic.” he said. “They add a lot of extra stress and high risk, which some people like because it forces the other side to make a decision. But waiting until the last minute and throwing all those numbers around isn’t always the best way to make a good, rational economic decision.”

The long-term effect of the lockout remains to be seen. Baseball has taken years to recover from the last time it canceled games due to a labor action, and Manfred is likely to cut more off the schedule if there isn’t a fix soon.

“I think what baseball does is turn off the casual fan and turn off the young fan.” said Stephen Greyser, a marketing and communications professor at Harvard Business School and a longtime Red Sox season ticket holder.

“The reality is that if they don’t have any games at all and the season doesn’t start, these people will have no interest in going to games or watching games on TV.”


AP Baseball writer Ronald Blum, from New York, contributed to this report.

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