By Chris Caesar , CNN Written by
The 11-player owners’ committee that met Wednesday in Manhattan to discuss the possibility of baseball’s first work stoppage in 23 years brought with it a clear message: If MLB’s labor collective bargains begin to take a toll on fans, the real pain will come from a reduced amount of baseball.
“What I hope the owners are thinking is that there are a lot of fans who’ve already committed to a season, who are good fans,” Orel Hershiser, a former star Dodgers and Cubs pitcher, told CNN Sports. “And they’re in a rut — they’re in a relationship with an employer and if they are no longer treated with a certain degree of respect, they’ll walk.”
Hershiser and his fellow committee members, which include none other than players’ association executive director Tony Clark, expressed confidence that the talks will continue in good faith. The major player groups and the players must agree on any collective bargaining documents by October 9.
Clark’s team is poised to make significant concessions this season — a distinct contrast to the negotiations five years ago, when the 2012 schedule was shortened and several cities — including Florida — were forced to make drastic course corrections.
Players with two or more World Series titles, or those in the highest-paid tiers of the game, including some homegrown prospects, have been given free agency starting next season. Other restrictions are also in place.
The front office “has to pay their players just as much, if not more,” according to Clark.
In 2011, when MLB canceled the World Series, it was more of a style war than anything. Players — most notably Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez — had been suspended by Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs.
This year’s discussions are taking a starkly different course.
Clark recently was highly critical of Yankees players like Rodriguez, requesting they publicly denounce the team’s (now suspended) general manager Brian Cashman.
And some fans are taking note.
Cleveland-based commercial real estate broker Karly Smith thought it was a good move for players to take a stand. The last World Series that didn’t see an MLB team represented was in 1986, and she has hosted a fantasy baseball league since 1993.
This year, her fantasy team declined.
“There have been some off-field factors the last few years,” she said. “There’s been the issue with Alex Rodriguez and his suspension and there’s been issues with the (Performance Enhancing Drug) testing and the penalties. The players need to make a stand. They need to say, ‘enough.'”
For Clark, the real risk to the game is what will happen to its fans.
“I think what worries us is the unintended consequences,” Clark said. “Our fear is that if players, and perhaps players’ union members, aren’t treated with any respect, that as a result, fans will start to lose their passion and some will leave our game.
“My biggest concern is that there’s not enough goodwill between all of the parties to reach a deal that both sides can get on board with.”