Last, boring, uneventful day of camp…..
Well maybe not. Let’s start at the beginning.
Late last year we had confirmation of MLB’s desire for the Red Sox to open the 2008 baseball season in Japan. At first glance an exciting cool proposition. I have no idea what people were thinking but I know the players gave this a lukewarm reception at best, which deteriorated the deeper the discussion got.
There are so many pitfalls to doing things like this and pretty much all of them have to do with the long term impact of making this sort of pilgrimage in a short, tight timeframe. It had nothing to do with Japan, who wouldn’t want to go see it? It had nothing to do with anything other than the logistical nightmare that we knew would have an impact on us far beyond the 3-4 games we played there.
I happened to be one of five players on the conference calls that took place. The initial call, I think, startled those not in this organization. I don’t believe MLB thought the players would have any objections and would be looking forward to the trip. To the contrary, on the initial call we actually told MLB we pretty much decided on not wanting to do this, and that as a club we’d voted not to go. 4-5 frantic phone calls ensued, and before they did we, the players, spoke at length about our position and the fact that we knew they would come back to us in short order. We decided to put together a list of requirements that would need to be met for the team to agree to make this trip. We understood the power of the Red Sox brand, the benefit to the game and the overall good will that could be created by making this trip, given that we had arguably the most famous Japanese born player in history as a teammate, and the most dominant left handed reliever in baseball last year, also a Japanese born player, on our team as well.
The demands were, at least to us, relatively minor and inconsequential when you factored in the revenue that would be generated by us agreeing to make this trip.
We wanted MLB to provide free transportation for the entire trip, from Ft Myers, to Japan, to LA, to Oakland, to Toronto, back to Boston, for any players and staff immediate families that desired to go.
We wanted the ‘staff’ to be compensated at the amount ‘guaranteed’ to the players, which we were told was to be at a minimum, 40,000 dollars. This topic was actually brought up on two separate occasions, both times it was agreed to and signed off on.
There were a few more items, none of them ground breaking or game changing, roster size, travel times, off days.
There is now much debate about one of the above topics, and that came to a head today, but to focus on that is a mistake. One by one the promises that were made at the time, were taken off the table. This happened, I guess, over the course of this past winter. Players were scattered all over the world, and many, most, had no idea. The discussions and negotiations were done with no knowledge of any of it, by players on this team, and I would assume Oakland as well.
No one party is to blame for any of this. First off everyone is at fault for not getting ALL of this in writing at the time of the agreement. Next, there is blame on both sides, both MLB and the MLBPA for not honoring the stipulations of the agreement that were made.
Basically the compensation piece is where the argument came to a nasty conclusion yesterday.
As I understand it, the compensation works like this. All of the revenue generated by ‘the gate’ during this tour is split 50/50. Half goes to MLB, the other half goes to the MLBPA. In the past the ‘staff’ of the teams was, as I understand it, compensated out of the 50% taken in by the MLBPA. This was negotiated OUT of the agreement at some point in the recent past by someone(s) in the MLBPA, unbeknown to us.
The reason we made a specific point to negotiate on behalf of the staff on this trip was just that. We wanted to insure that the staff accompanying this team on the trip was compensated fairly and in the same amount as the players regardless of which pool the money came from.
A quick history on why players, most, feel this way. The ‘staff’ as they are called, is made up of a group of incredibly passionate, hard working and devoted baseball people. From strength coaches, to head trainers, to BP coaches and catchers these are the members of our families that very rarely get recognition for putting in twice the effort and time we do as players, for 1/100th the pay. Year after year they are the least appreciated and respected employees in many organizations.
Teams basically exert the power and influence they can’t on players, on these people. I know of instances where employees were given less of a Christmas Bonus because the club knew that person had received a share of World Series money, voted on by players. I know of other situations where these people have negotiated salaries with the teams telling them “you’re going to receive X$ for going on the Y trip”, so you won’t be getting a raise since you’ll be making X as total income.
These people make 40-50 to 75K a year. That’s not small potatoes but in an industry making over 6 billion a year in revenue it’s, well, it’s odd I guess.
This pretty much leads us to the events of yesterday. The players became aware of the coaches situation and called a players only meeting.
In a 30-0 vote we agreed that we would not take the field for the game, nor get on the bus for the trip to Japan if the agreement to compensate the staff was not honored.
When all was said and done this organization did what any good franchise would do. The ownership of this team agreed to ‘underwrite’ the amount we requested in hopes of getting MLB and the MLBPA to cut them a check to reimburse.
There is no one really blameless in all this, everyone shares at least some of the blame starting with me and the guys on the initial calls not getting all the agreed upon pieces in writing at that time. It snowballed from there and ended up with the events of yesterday.
I will say this though, I am proud as hell to be a part of a group of men who were absolutely 100% willing to not step on this plane and make this trip, knowing full well we would be in violation of our contracts, we’d potentially be forfeiting games and much much more, to stand behind a group of people that have very few supporters. Yes you could argue that doing that would have been disrespectful to the game, and fans, but we disagreed. In our minds anyone who had in mind to do what was right would have make the exact same decisions we did.