Many years ago my father gave me wise advice regarding politicians. Namely, “Don’t pay attention to what they say. Watch what they do. ”

If he had been with us today, I think my father would have given similar advice regarding baseball commissioners. Or at least one baseball commissioner in particular.

Rob Manfred knows how to say all the right things and say them eloquently. His words are smooth and accentuated by the brilliance of the Ivy League. It always sounds sincere.

Perhaps there is no better example than his brief comment on December 2, when he announced that the Major League Baseball had imposed a knockout on the Players Association. The previous contract between the players and the owners expired the day before, and there was no new one. When he announced the lockout, Manfred said his intention was to “shut up” the talks.

It’s an easily recognizable automotive metaphor. A quick start is what happens when a discharged or weak battery receives energy from an external source that allows the car’s engine to revitalize.

I don’t suppose that Manfred took many courses in car mechanics while studying at Harvard Law School. If he had known, he might have known the difference between jumping to start a vehicle and putting sugar into a gas tank. Metaphorically speaking, this is what he has done and continues to do.

There are several problems that plague players and they have been created over the years.

The main thing is the fact that the free agency no longer works as intended. Players cannot sell their services to the highest bidder until they have spent at least five seasons in the major leagues. By the time they get the right to a free agency, many of them have finished their most productive years.

Team owners are reluctant to offer a generous big contract to a player whose skills are starting to decline. Players believe this could be remedied if the owners set up a $ 150 million fund to be distributed among players who are not eligible for free agents whose statistics show they deserve additional compensation.

Further, the recently past major agreement allowed teams to leave major league players in the lower leagues for a few extra days in April to deprive them of a year of service. The players want to repeal this policy and want the current players who, in their opinion, have suffered from this under the last deal, to be credited with the year of service in which they were denied.

Players believe that a balance sheet tax – commonly referred to as a luxury tax – is a de facto wage cap and artificially limits players ’wages. They want this tax to be eliminated, as well as compensation when choosing a draft for teams that lose a player due to a free agency.

Players claim that some teams “tank” (i.e. intentionally lose) to secure a better position in the draft, and these teams intentionally reduce their salaries. They are asking that the first seven recruiting positions be determined by lottery to prevent tanking.

Everyone has known for months – in fact years – that these issues will be on the table every time the next Basic Agreement is negotiated. It seemed obvious that these cases would not be reconciled without a serious bargain.

Perhaps this was not obvious to everyone.

Given the complexity of the issues, one would think that players and owners would have started negotiations at least a year ago. Were it not for this, one would think that they would start negotiations as soon as the 2021 season is over. At the very least, one would think that serious negotiations would begin shortly after the commissioner said he wanted them to begin.

Now you can stop thinking. None of this happened.

When the commissioner announced the lockout, there were only 11 weeks left until the start of spring training. His jump definition included nothing special to do for the next six weeks. That’s exactly what he did, and he did it very well.

When the parties finally met for a negotiating session in mid-January, the owners offered a package with only a few symbolic concessions. When players rejected it, the owners said negotiations were deadlocked and invited a federal mediator. The players saw this proposal as an additional stall tactic and rejected the idea.

As it turned out, the hosts did not need help when it came to the end of the hour. There were very few serious talks until the parties met last week in Jupiter, Florida. Until then, the commissioner was able to threaten to cancel part of the regular season (and loss of wages) if an agreement is not reached.

If the news reports are accurate, the owners have offered the young players a $ 30 million bonus, which is far from the $ 150 million players want. They agreed to stop paying draft election compensation for signing a free agent and agreed to a lottery that includes the first four elections. (Players still want that number to be seven). They insisted on maintaining a tax on competitive balance and apparently did not make proposals that would change the manipulation of service times.

I’m sure it came as no surprise to anyone when the players turned down the offer. Manfred responded by eliminating the first six games from each team’s schedule and making it clear that more games will be canceled if players do not give up. I think he has players exactly where he wants to be.

Remember, Manfred is a brilliant man who got rich as a lawyer. Prior to joining MLB, he was a labor lawyer who worked for Fortune 500 companies. Suppressing union demands is his specialty, but that’s not all he does.

As commissioner for baseball, he fired many lower-league teams and cut the draft, both steps that benefited all 30 major league clubs. Now he seems to be aiming for his biggest foil – the most powerful union of players in the sport. Probably no one is better suited for this task than himself.

I have no doubt that all the brakes and dragging of the legs were part of his master plan. He has now put union leaders in a position where they must either accept what is essentially the owners ’plan, or explain to their members why they will not receive their salaries. Yes, at least some of the owners will suffer from the cessation of work, but the owners will not rake really big money until the postseason begins. I think Manfred is betting that the owners are more willing to endure than the players.

It remains to be seen who will blink first and how long it will take for someone to blink. This can take weeks or months.

Those of us who consider ourselves baseball fans won’t like it, but I think Manfred totally agrees with that perspective.

Former Hall of Fame voter Jay Dunn has been writing about baseball for The Trentonian for 54 years. Contact him at

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