MLB players hold bad hand, but that doesn’t mean they will fold [UPDATED]

The MLB players union continues to insist that its members won’t return unless they are paid their prorated salaries — in other words, half their salary for playing half of the 162 games. They take this position even though the owners won’t make anywhere near half their normal revenue because they will receive no money from fans who would have attended the games. In a normal year, that money probably accounts for at least 40 percent of owner revenue.

Owners thought that paying prorated salaries was a deal they could live with when they expected fan revenue. Thus, they agreed to that deal back then. But without this revenue, I suspect owners will make out appreciably better financially if there is no season than they will if they play a season on the terms the players are demanding.

The players’ situation is different. They will make out better financially if a season is played on the terms the owners have proposed (which is just an opening bid, I assume), than if there is no season.

Accordingly, wherever one’s sympathies lie, I think the players will be acting irrationally if they don’t back away from their insistence on being paid pro rata. But history tells us they are a tough, stubborn lot, so we can’t rule out the possibility that they will stick to their guns, thus virtually assuring there will be no baseball season.

My sympathies lie with neither the owners nor the major league players. My sympathies are with the minor league players.

Other than the high draft picks and top international prospects, who receive substantial signing bonuses, minor leaguers are the paupers of baseball. And they won’t have a season this year.

Therefore, I want to commend the nine franchises that have said they will continue to pay stipends to their minor leaguers past May 31, the date on which their commitment to pay them end. The clubs are:

San Diego Padres
Seattle Mariners
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Dodgers
Tampa Bay Rays
Texas Rangers
Baltimore Orioles
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies

All of these team but the Phillies say they will continue to pay an allowance of $400 per week.

Special praise goes to San Diego and Seattle for agreeing to keep paying through the end of August, and to the White Sox for agreeing to pay 25 players they recently released from the organization.

The union should also be commended for supplementing the weekly stipends of minor league players with major league service.

A final thought. The current major leaguers were once minor leaguers — the “paupers.” Thus, if I had to pick between the owners and the players, my sympathies would be with the players.

I suspect that the life of a minor leaguer — the low wages, the long bus rides, etc. — may account for the toughness major leaguers display in labor negotiations, compared with other professional athletes. Most NFL and NBA players are pampered in the years before they enter their respective leagues. MLB players are the opposite of pampered.

Maybe that’s why, historically, their union has been the most difficult one for sports owners to deal with.

UPDATE: As of today (Saturday), 16 MLB teams say they will continue to pay stipends to minor leaguers. Only Oakland has said it won’t.

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