Why Cubs' Jason Kipnis and other players have reason to mistrust owners


In case you missed it, here is what one baseball owner said to his players:

“Your salaries are higher than they ever have been at any time. True, you deserve to be well paid … But you take few, if any, of the great risks involved. … Baseball is at a serious point in its history.”

That was Cardinals owner Gussie Busch in 1969 during a long lecture to his players after the fledgling players union won a battle over pension-plan payments — nearly six years before the first free agent.

Perhaps the most ironic and astounding part of this unprecedented moment of combined health, economic and social crisis in our country is just how utterly precedented and predictable everything we’ve watched unfold between Major League Baseball’s owners and players the last few weeks has been.

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Just go back to St. Louis, turn on the radio this week and listen to the current owner of the Cardinals, Bill DeWitt Jr.:

“The industry isn’t very profitable, to be quite honest,” he said Tuesday in the most ridiculous claim made yet by either side since negotiations to stage an abbreviated 2020 season resumed last month.

No wonder players such as Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis express frustration at not only the owners’ demands of players to share more of the losses, beyond prorated salaries, after years of squeezing player salaries during a time of record revenues, but also the insinuation that the players are the bad guys in the talks.

“We’re very conscious of it,” Kipnis said Tuesday on ESPN 1000. “It’s turning into a he said-he said kind of argument where it feels like they almost make a proposal just so they can be the last ones to say ‘Oh, we’re trying. We made the last proposal and if the game doesn’t start back up it’s on the players ‘cause we offered the last one.’ It’s just not the way it works. This shouldn’t be a public matter at all; that was their intention, of trying to get the public on their side to make it look like the players are the ones holding it up.”

The owners have been in better position to absorb a short-term hit for long-term gain from the start.

MLB is a $10.7 billion industry that has experienced 18 consecutive seasons of industry-record revenues, skyrocketing franchise values and a flattening of player salaries in recent years that included back-to-back seasons (2018-19) of declines in the average salary for the first time since the union began tracking the data more than 50 years ago.

DeWitt's team alone is, according to Forbes, worth 14 times the $150 million he paid for it in 1995 ($2.1 billion).

If this industry “isn’t very profitable,” then it’s their own damn fault.

Or it’s the same song and dance owners have played for the public since the earliest days of paying players and charging admission — particularly reminiscent of rhetoric during the 1981 players strike and the 1994-95 strike/lockout.

That it plays out during a global pandemic, historic job losses, and at a time of coast-to-coast protests over police brutality and racism? 

As many players and managers famously said many times: “That’s baseball.”

The latest dissonance between what’s known about the game’s financial growth and the cries of poverty in the owners’ demands and public statements have left players such as Kipnis ready for a season but wondering if there will be one.

“All of us would love to play; every player’s ready to play this year, but we have a duty now as a union and as a player to leave the game in a better shape,” said Kipnis, who cited the strength of the union and history of unified efforts that gave it that strength.

“And if we take concessions now,” he added, “if you give them an inch, they’re gonna take a mile with these owners sometimes.”

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Suppressed free agent markets two of the last three years created the animosity between the parties as players felt squeezed and angry for the first time following two decades of labor peace.

Insiders have said in recent months that current players have never been as unified as they are now heading into next year’s final year of the current collective bargaining agreement — which is the bad-timing backdrop for what the owners are asking now.

Kipnis, 33, said he can’t rule out that players might even refuse to play if MLB tries to impose conditions the union finds unacceptable.

“It pains me to say that just because in bargaining times and stuff like this, you never can rule it out,” he said. “If it comes to the point where we need to put our foot down and stand for what we believe in, it’s something we would have to do. But I don’t think anybody wants that.

“I think every single player knows how good they have it and knows how much they love the game and love playing the game, so we are trying desperately to not let it get to that point. We just can’t seem to find this middle ground right now.”

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