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Bruce Dowbiggin

Rays Of Sunshine In MLB’s Pointless Lockout

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If you’re a baseball fan planning on going to 2022 spring training to see your favourite team you might want to pause before booking a flight or hotel room. In case you didn’t see the news, MLB has locked out its players again as the two sides jockey for a new collective bargaining agreement.

“We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time,” says MLB owners commissioner Rob Manfred. “This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option.” Sure. Go with that.

Understand that for baseball fans the words collective-bargaining agreement are as welcoming as a reminder that you’re due for a colonoscopy. Labour actions of the past  have ruined seasons and— in the case of the Montreal Expos— doomed a franchise. (See: 1994 lockout )

“The Expos were widely regarded as the best team in baseball that season, prohibitive favorites to win the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Once play resumed, the cash-strapped Expos tore apart their contending team, shipping off their best players in trades for lesser prospects in most cases.” By 2005 they had moved to Washington.

Since that 1994 disaster MLB has managed to avoid losing playing time to strikes/ lockouts. But the pressure has been building since the sport rejected the notion of a salary cap in favour of a much-less-restrictive luxury tax on free-spending terms. While the NHL, NBA and NFL operate more stringent salary cap systems, baseball has gone its own way in controlling salaries.

Concurrent with that has been an explosion of revenues for MLB, sending salaries and franchise values into the stratosphere. (See my book Cap In Hand for a full history of salary-cap economics and how a return to freer player markets is the future of the business.)

In a sign of how loose the financial reins have become, Max Scherzer’s $43-million annual salary with the New York Mets is more than the entire payroll of two MLB teams. With no minimum payroll, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are free to lap up their 1/30th share of MLB’s lucrative digital/ TV package, logo rights and other baubles.

Meanwhile players are concerned that while the stars become rich as Saudi princes the working class of the sport is not getting a proper share of the revenues. They claim owners are using devious practices to delay players getting to arbitration and free-agency. And they decry owners tanking for better draft picks or simply to make money.

None of this says that an early solution is imminent should the sides get past the next few weeks. The only lever for players is cancelling games, and there are none scheduled till next February (spring training) and late March (regular season). Likewise players are paid their salaries only during the regular season, meaning no player will lose any money till the games begin.  Translation: They’re not panicking either. So expect the real negotiating to start in February as camps set to open for 2022.

The hiccup in the debate over highly paid superstars and exploding payrolls is the Tampa Bay Rays. The definitive “small MLB market” Tampa has found a way to get to the 2020 World Series and the 2021 ALDS using a formula that involves dumping their name players (Evan Longoria, Blake Snell, David Archer) and culling prospects and rejects from other clubs.

While teams like the Blue Jays, Mets, Yankees, Dodgers and Angels are profligate spenders on big names, Tampa throws around nickels like they were manhole covers. The Rays are so frugal that they’re proposing their summertime games be played in Montreal.

You want more? The cash-strapped Rays traded their stopper at the 2021 trade deadline— even as they led the majors in wins. They virtually invented the notion of reducing the value of starting pitching by creating the “bullpen” day, in which they start a relief pitcher and followed him with a series of other situational pitchers. Picking through the bargain bin they found inexpensive rejects and burnouts on other staffs and thrust them into their lineup.

As Mack Cerullo of Yahoo Sports noted, the Rays used 39 different pitchers last season; of the nine relief pitchers on Tampa Bay’s opening-day roster, only three remained at season’s end. The team’s three All-Stars, Joey Wendle, Mike Zunino and Andrew Kittredge, made a combined $5 million last year. Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena and Austin Meadows, the heart of their batting order, made less than $3.7 million among them.

Despite cutting corners the Rays had the No. 1 ranked system in baseball starting 2021. By season’s end prized rookies Wander Franco, Arozarena, Luis Patino and Shane McClanahan were all keys to TB getting to the ALDS. When they get too expensive the Rays will likely trade them for prospects or let them walk in free agency.

(Although the Rays tarnished their Scrooge reputation by signing the brilliant young Franco an eleven-year, $182 million contract extension, with a club option of $25 million for a twelfth year.)

Which begs the question: why are the tall foreheads of MLB shutting down the sport to save a system that has worked so well for Tampa? There is a ready template to compete and prosper in smaller markets. Why is this news to other owners? Likely it’s easier to lock out players than do the heavy lifting of the Rays. With no threat of losing a franchise via relegation (as in soccer) or being cut off from the MLB gravy train why bother?

So prepare for months of crocodile tears from owners that MLBPA’s demands “would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive”. And prepare to hold your nose when they say they’ve solved the Grand Old Past-Time.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Corporate Capture & Youth Checkout: The Covid Scorecard

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The decade past has witnessed a Great Realignment. (Mind we said realignment, not reset.) The election of Barack Obama through Donald Trump and Covid-19 has seen a tectonic shift in the plates beneath society. Alliances have been broken. Power has shifted. Loyalties have disappeared.

The result is a new coalition, a cult alliance of tech, knowledge-based industry, culture and corporatism. Under cover of social unrest and virus paranoia these former antagonists found common cause in punishing the middle and lower classes of society for not acknowledging their elevated, superior status. (Translation: they voted for Trump.)

These woke apostles are unapologetic. Through censorship, cancel culture and financial, leverage they’ve created an oligopoly unabashed in bare-knuckled self-interest. And to constantly remind you that they’re in charge.

To understand how revolutionary this alliance is one need only recall the dirigiste fervour of the 1960s. While it seemed to everyone at the time that society might tip in the maelstrom of riot and protest, the corporate side never blinked. They viewed the Weathermen and the Red Brigade as fringe outfits that would never see power. They held to the status quo (or privilege in today’s CRT newspeak.)

That has changed, because of writers such as French socialist economist Thomas Piketty. Thanks to him Corporate America is now obsessed with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), not shareholder value. It is dominated by HR departments deeply committed to radical notions of social justice and racial equity. Inspired by the example of Michelle Obama, they’ve made Wall Street into Woke Street.

As we wrote in February of 2021 “the New Left now ruthlessly employs Big Tech, Wall Street and the media against its idealogical enemies— including some of its former allies… the Democratic Party of 2021 has morphed from brave to slave, dedicated to intellectual conformity, not contrary opinions. Gone are the civil libertarians like (William) Kunstler. In their place are AOC and her brigades of SJWs purveying hate-speech laws and attacking deniers of the “true climate religion”. First amendment rights have been replaced by cancel-culture indictments.”

Jordan B. Peterson, who recently resigned his tenured position at University of Toronto, describes the corporate submission: “What in the world is wrong with you? Can’t you see that the ideologues who push such appalling nonsense are driven by an agenda that is not only absolutely antithetical to your free-market enterprise, as such, but precisely targeted at the freedoms that made your success possible?

“Can’t you see that by going along, sheep-like (just as the professors are doing; just as the artists and writers are doing) that you are generating a veritable fifth column within your businesses? Are you really so blind, cowed and cowardly?”

While this corporate surrender has transpired, another schism has developed under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic panic. Its effect could be just as enduring. This one is based on age.

The group in society most vulnerable to the ravages of the pandemic is the 55+ cohort, the aging Boomers— the same one orchestrating the reaction to the virus. They are also the most afraid of its impact on them personally. It would be no exaggeration to say those health concerns have been reflected in the overbearing lockdown, mask, distancing and detention policies used against the virus. The generation that once worshipped free speech was quick to abandon civil liberties in its panic to save its own hide.

But younger generations who are far less vulnerable to the virus are tired of being participants in the psycho-dramas of aging the Boomers and their death phobia. And they’ve reached their end. They now flock to clubs, arenas and stadiums to see their friends. They know some of them will get sick, but 99.99 percent of them will be fine even if infected.

They are dismissive of the political shell game of their elders and the autocrats of Big Health. And, as we can see from one of the major sports, they’re headed in a new direction.

NHL players, God bless ‘em, have recognized that old people’s worries are not their worries. For months the league has gone with the Covid catechism to please politicians. Players were ordered to be vaccinated. Anyone testing positive from the wonky PCR test was sidelined. Even asymptomatic players. Games were played with undermanned rosters.

With 100 percent vaccinated, the league still saw 70 percent of players test positive. So the NHL now says “No more”. Only players who show symptoms will be removed from play. Excellent athletes are not 81-year-old U.S. senators shaking in their Depends.

With the accepted narrative now collapsing— Britain has abandoned the mask and lockdown mandates— more jurisdictions will do contrition for overshooting the mark. Dottering Joe Biden can talk about belatedly sending out 400 million masks, but he’s lost the room. Under 50s have moved on.

The only question is how long the ESG folks propping him up will wait before he’s sent overboard. While health is important, everything is second to their power.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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Fortress Australia Gets Its Scalp, Tosses Djoker Out

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The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity. —W.B. Yeats

There has always been a large reservoir of affection for Australia in the West. The sun-kissed land down under. Kangaroos. Beaches. Crocodile Dundee. Aussie Rules Football. Men At Work. Foreigners embraced all the clichés gleefully.

The Australian Open tennis tournament was part of that scenario. The first Grand Slam, played in scorching sunshine while the Northern Hemisphere freezes in January. TV coverage was laced with tourist entreaties to fly 14 hours to the Great Barrier Reef and Gold Coast.

But with the nation’s behaviour in fighting Covid-19, this is all (in the words of Yeats) “changed, changed utterly.” The fever-swamp regime now running the nation has gone off the rails with detention camps for unvaxxed, flying squads of police roaming the streets and total lockdowns in emulation of the Chinese.

Australia’s heavy-handed “cures” for Covid would make Curfew Quebec look a model of tolerance. While America is moving away from draconian lockdowns, (Associated Press is now asking its writers to play down Covid numbers) Australia is still singing from the 2020 WHO hymn book that pretends lockdowns save lives. For example, mask mandates were recently re-imposed when five— count ‘em— five local cases were spotted in Perth.

Look, Australia is entitled to run their nation any way they want. They have the constitutional right to act like so many scared kookaburras in the face of a virus that will spare 99.98 percent of them. But don’t push the “shrimp on the bar-b” hokum on the world when the tennis begins.

This whack-a-mole mania culminated in Sunday’s expulsion of Covid rebel Novak Djokovic. After granting the No. 1 men’s player in the world a visa to play, Australia’s Minister of Immigration Alex Hawke said he had cancelled the 34-year-old’s visa for a second time on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. He said Djokovic’s example was— wait for it— a threat to his people.

Good order? Hawke and his government have to lock up the population because their Island Fortress strategy isn’t enough to curb Omicron’s arrival. Yet Djokovic is the threat, not their frantic search for a fifth column of viral killers in Canberra.

Djoker knew he was going into headwinds as he sought to play in the Open as an unvaccinated player. He was less than forthcoming on his entry documents. So his highly political stance made him a target. But a threat to the people of Australia? Please. (The cops escorting him to the airport was reminiscent of Judy Garland being shooed from the country in the 1960s for being too drunk to perform.)

The Australian PM Scott Morrison, with his eyes on re-election, greeted the expulsion, mumbling about needing to “keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe… It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer.”

Djokovic’s argument is that the Australian government that initially granted him a visa is now using him as an easy target to whip the natives in line. The independent, unapologetic Djokovic has certainly served the Aussie politicians well as a convenient whipping boy for the petrified millions who put their faith in governments and health “experts” to save them from the dreaded virus.

(Sounds like France, which never misses an opportunity to enforce the status quo, will emulate Australia by banning an unvaxxed Djokovic if he ventures there in June for the French Open.)

The “burn the witch” frenzy feeds into the non-vaxxed insanity currently underway in Canada and the U.S. There are demands that those who declined the juice be denied healthcare or fined or have their taxes audited. Immunity is dismssed. Cobbled hospital numbers are conflated with truths. Instead, images of gap-toothed hillbillies saturate progressive media who find their allies have been unable to halt the virus as promised.

Inconveniently, polling by Abacus in Canada has shown that the typical anti-vaxxer is not a swaggering tennis player, a bow hunter or toothless yokel but is in fact a 42-year-old Ontario white woman who votes Liberal.

The bright side of this Kafkaesque farce is that Omicron is fading like old Xmas decorations. Many are predicting that it is peaking now and will be a spent force by February. The tinpot tyrants in Australia, having booted Djokovic, will need something else to reinforce their desperate grasp on power.

Ditto here in North America. Unless a follow-up variant can be swiftly produced (remember that subsequent viruses are always weaker) Skippy and Biden will be left to explain their enforced vaccines and virus solutions to a public disinterested in their ongoing need for power.

To use a tennis analogy they’ll be down two breaks and facing Djokovic’s best serve. Should be entertaining.

 

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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