The eight members of the MLB Players Association’s executive subcommittee who voted against the labor deal pushed the union further than it otherwise would have gone to achieve gains for players, Craig Stammen, San Diego Padres pitcher and team union representative, said last week.
“I know that their strong attitudes toward holding tight and not blinking and staying the course and sticking to our guns and hanging in there to get what we really desire was good for our union; was great for our union,” Stammen said. “I’m super happy those guys were on the executive subcommittee. They challenged us.”
In the aftermath of the new MLB collective-bargaining agreement, there were a lot of questions raised about whether the deal was good enough and whether the players could have received more had they held on longer — as the eight-member subcommittee of players wanted the union to do. The deal was ultimately approved with a vote of 26 to 12, with all eight members of the subcommittee voting no.
As to the media narrative that the vote says the union is divided, Stammen said flatly, “That is not true.”
The union also pushed back against the story that the players who negotiated the deal voted against it, noting that the eight-member subcommittee was part of a 38-member executive board, which included the 30 team player reps.
“The full Executive Committee, the Player Reps and Alternates and the Subcommittee, was all in from start to finish,” MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark said in an email to Sports Business Journal. “They attended bargaining meetings either in person or by videoconference from the first session in April until we came to an agreement.”
The Padres, as a team, voted yes on the labor deal. All of the players were asked “What’s your opinion?” and players had different perspectives, Stammen said. “I think that is a good thing, right? If we were all robots, that would not be a good thing.”
When the deal was passed, there was a lot of speculation in the press, as five of the eight players on the executive subcommittee are represented by powerful MLB agent Scott Boras. But other agents said the deal put to rest public criticism that Boras was running the union.
“There was this illusion that Boras was the puppeteer and was making all the moves,” said one agent. “And in the end, it was proven he was not.”
Pitcher Craig Stammen said the MLBPA executive subcommittee “challenged us” to get more from the labor deal. getty images
Stammen, who is represented by veteran MLB agent Joe Longo, said players viewed rumors about Boras as a tactic to divide them. He said Boras is smart and he is sure players he represented asked him for advice. “I think that a lot of players did that,” Stammen said. “Talked to people who are in their corner who are a little bit more versed in this lawyer-type language. I think it is smart, in that way, that we used all our resources at the union to help us in this negotiation.”
What happened in the MLBPA is not unique, according to Ian Pulver, an NHL agent who worked as associate counsel for the NHL Players’ Association for 16 years, including through one strike and two lockouts. Pulver worked alongside Ian Penny, who is now MLBPA general counsel, for many years at the NHLPA.
“There is a hard-line element of guys in any union who want more,” Pulver said. “They are the champions of the union and are intimately involved in the negotiations. And while they may have a little bit of a bitter taste in their mouths for wanting more, they are the guys who drove the gains.”
MLB agents interviewed last week said they were happy with the benefits the union won. But some also wondered if the union might have gotten more had they listened to the hard-liners. It’s a question that will never be answered.
“When you look at the agreement that’s been reached, it presents several different positive, substantive changes to the system that benefit players,” said Greg Genske, MLB agent, president of VaynerSports Baseball and a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. “I think with the backdrop of other American sports over the years, by comparison, this has to be viewed as a victory for the MLBPA.”
That said, Genske said he was hoping for more measures to “disincentivize tanking” by clubs — to lose games to get a shot at drafting top players. He also had hoped for higher increases than the MLBPA achieved in the competitive balance tax.
“The hallmark of baseball has always been a free market, without a salary cap, and while we appreciate the increases of the CBT, the creation of an additional threshold of penalties at the top and the failure to have year-over-year increases that match what we anticipate the increase in revenues to be were certainly areas where we could have seen improvement,” he said. “But all things considered, I think the MLBPA did an excellent job.”
Agents had differing opinions of the tanking disincentives in the deal, which included a draft lottery for the first six picks in the draft.
“The first six picks in a lottery are huge,” said this agent. “Huge. What are you going to do now? You are going to tank and get the fifth pick? Whoa.”
Another agent said the difference between the first and sixth pick wasn’t that great. “This isn’t the NFL,” this agent said.
Agents were universal in their praise for Clark, who they said spent many hours talking to them and to players, in person, on Zoom calls, and on one-on-one phone calls throughout the process.
“I think Tony did a great job and the players prevailed and let’s play ball,” said Alan Nero, managing director of Octagon Baseball, which is composed of 20 agents and represents 200 major and minor league player clients. “I think he must have worked 20 hours a day.”
Clark noted the assistance he received from other MLBPA staff, including Kevin Slowey, head of the players services group, and Leonor Colon, director of player operations, in keeping both agents and players informed.
Liz Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.