MLB Lockout for Dummies | The Bandwagon

This week, Hannah Keyser is joined by comedian Josh Gondelman to help explain what is happening with MLB’s lockout, what each side is fighting for, and when it might get resolved.

Video Transcript

HANNAH KEYSER: Who do you think is the last baseball player to not have an email address? So we were saying, like, Ortiz, but he also-- I guess he's got an agent, but he's doing [BLEEP]. Who's a really famous baseball player who's not doing [BLEEP]?

- What about Jake Peavy, who took his duck boat, famously, to a lake in Alabama and was just like, I live here now.

HANNAH KEYSER: That man does not have an email address. Great call.

- What about Randy Johnson?

- No.

- Randy Johnson doesn't even have a regular mailbox.

HANNAH KEYSER: Randy Johnson is like, I'm very noticeable. If you want to talk to me, you'll find me.

I'm Hannah Keyser, and this is an emergency edition of The Bandwagon.

- Yeah, emergency.

HANNAH KEYSER: Welcome to the dawn of our cold, dark post-baseball landscape-- for now, anyway. And admittedly, the temporal stuff has more to do with winter in New York and the fact that daylight savings time should never end. But if you're seeing this, it does mean that the owners have locked out the players and plunged Major League Baseball into its first work stoppage in 26 years.

The transaction frenzy of the past couple of weeks is fully shuttered until this [BLEEP] gets resolved. And at some point, even next season will be at stake. If you think this is just a bunch of millionaires and billionaires squabbling about money and minutiae in a battle that will largely unfold between lawyers behind closed doors, you are not wrong. But it is still important.

The collective bargaining agreement-- or what everybody, including me for the rest of the show, call the CBA-- is the central document that governs the whole sport, and renegotiating it regularly gives players a legal voice in the business that is built on their backs. No labor pains, no labor gains.

- Oh.

HANNAH KEYSER: But even casual fans who don't need their sports to come with a side of economics should care about the CBA, which dictates the rules, which dictates the game that we all love. And they should definitely care about the absence of the CBA. And so today, we're going to talk about what that means, legally, in practice, and for people who just want to watch baseball in three months.

Over the summer, we had comedian Josh Gondelman on here to help us make baseball's crackdown on sticky stuff digestible and entertaining. And he did such a good job with that, we're way leveling up the difficulty and going to find out if he can make contract negotiations funny. Josh, thanks for being here.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Thank you for having me. I love that I was so good at not knowing anything over the summer that you're like, we got to get this dumb ass back in the studio.

HANNAH KEYSER: I gotta-- well, when you're not here, we call this the like, all right, let's ask an idiot.


HANNAH KEYSER: But when you're here, we don't say that.


JOSH GONDELMAN: So it's just kind of a behind my back thing. Thank you for having me. I'm so thrilled to be here.

HANNAH KEYSER: All right. So I know a little bit about this, and you a little bit less.


HANNAH KEYSER: So we're going to see if together, we can figure it out. So--

JOSH GONDELMAN: Here's my first question, is you kind of brought this up before in your intro. But like, what is the CBA, in that is it just the kind of financial structures and parameters of the league, or is it also like, pitchers have to throw the ball in 10 seconds or else it's an automatic balk. Is it that kind of stuff--

HANNAH KEYSER: Well, it would be that.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Or is that like a different rules committee?

HANNAH KEYSER: It covers everything from like, when the season starts, the joint drug agreement, the domestic violence policy. It covers the draft.


HANNAH KEYSER: So it's not the rules of baseball, like you run counterclockwise. That's not written in the CBA. But pretty much any sort of new rule would be, because you would have to negotiate it out with the players. It is virtually everything, but the core of it is that it lays out the economic system--


HANNAH KEYSER: --that then governs the sport. All of that is in the CBA, and the CBA changes every couple of years. They renegotiate it, and then-- this is the main way that baseball changes.

JOSH GONDELMAN: And so when-- what was the last big CBA change?

HANNAH KEYSER: Well, so the last two we sort of lump together. 2011 and 2016.


HANNAH KEYSER: That's where the owners made a lot of headway. So the--

JOSH GONDELMAN: Love to see management getting wins. You know, the people who own baseball teams, I just feel like it's probably been a hard couple of years for them. And you just love to see them thriving.

HANNAH KEYSER: So 1994 is what everybody knows about. The baseball players went on strike in the middle of the season. That's because the owners tried to implement a salary cap. But for the people who want to get paid, it's not good. And so they went on strike, because they did not want a salary cap. And then eventually, the owners figured out that they could sort of soft pedal a salary cap by calling it a luxury tax or a competitive balance tax.

JOSH GONDELMAN: What is the big thing that is at stake? What's like the big headline for this series of negotiations?

HANNAH KEYSER: Yeah. So players did not get enough in return. The critique of the union that was sort of handling negotiations for them, especially in 2016, was that they were too focused on, quote unquote, creature comforts. They were like, I want an extra bus seat next to me, and I want more whatever, cheese in the clubhouse. I couldn't think of a-- like, what would they want? They would want caviar?

JOSH GONDELMAN: More cheese in the clubhouse. That's pretty good.



HANNAH KEYSER: Cheese in the clubhouse.

JOSH GONDELMAN: I mean, if you've got a clubhouse that's running out of cheese at the Major League level, that's a red flag for your organization. That's like-- you know how Van Halen was like, no brown M&Ms, because that's like a bellwether for how well people read the rest of the contract? That's like what-- the Padres are like, we want an abundance of cheese, the Padres players.

HANNAH KEYSER: They were like, we want only brown M&Ms to match our uniforms.


They basically did a bad job negotiating, and all they got were these non-economic factors.


HANNAH KEYSER: Which means that now, they want a whole lot of progress on the economic front.


HANNAH KEYSER: Understandably so. So the main issue is players want to get paid earlier, because old people are less physically able or slower. Our knees hurt. We wake up every morning, and we're like, my back.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Wow. This is anti-Max Scherzer ageism, and I will not stand for it as someone in my early late 30s.

HANNAH KEYSER: The earliest part of your late 30s are really when your physical prowess tends to peak. So basically, it's like they're exploiting young players who are under team control. And so that's a little bit of a tricky problem to solve, because you can't just be like, everybody is a free agent all the time. Nobody ever knows who's playing where. But you do need to figure out a way to get those players paid more.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Right. So it's-- so is this idea of like, shortening that window of team control a way to, like, extend players' earning prime and kind of re-expand-- like, dilate that baseball middle class, right? So people are getting paid while they're still in their prime, and the teams can't be like, oh, sorry, dude. Your elbows are all messed up, so we're going to lowball you, after six years of being lowballed.

HANNAH KEYSER: Exactly. So that six year time is broken up into two smaller times.


HANNAH KEYSER: 0 to 3, you're completely at your team's mercy. Literally, you could get paid, like, the Major League minimum all three years. You only get raises if your team decides to give it to you. Then after three years, you hit arbitration, where you get to negotiate, but you can only negotiate with one team. So it's not really a super fair negotiation, but you do get-- you do get more money. And if you don't like-- you think your team is trying to lowball you, you can take them to arbitration, where essentially a judge, a lawyer, decides who is more right.

And so probably, the change will actually come in addressing the arbitration system. So moving that down, getting guys to arbitration a year earlier, or getting them some sort of performance bonuses. Like if you are--


HANNAH KEYSER: --literally an MVP candidate. So like the biggest, best example of this is in 2019, Pete Alonso won the Home Run Derby. He made twice as much money winning the Home Run Derby as he did for that entire baseball season to play.


HANNAH KEYSER: Because he was making the Major League minimum. So something around either getting players to arbitration earlier or just, like, rewarding them for being really good. Something that's like, if you're an MVP or you're an All-Star or you're a Gold Glove winner or, like, you're really cool, we pay you more money when you're younger.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Really cool?


What is the feeling around the league? Does this seem like it's going to become a protracted labor stoppage?

HANNAH KEYSER: There's not an obvious middle ground. Like, they're not even sort of talking in the same structure. The union is like, we want to lower arbitration and lower free agency. And the leagues is like, we'll never do that. Also, we want an international draft. So like, they're talking totally different things. Not a great sign.

For whatever reason, people still seem optimistic that we're going to get this done before we we miss games. But we are not going to get this done, like, quickly.


HANNAH KEYSER: Even if we're not going to miss games, it's going to take all off season. Because why would it not? Like, they didn't take the December 2nd deadline that seriously. I don't think they're going to be like, quick, everybody, get in a room and get this settled before Christmas.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Won't someone think of the pitchers and catchers?

HANNAH KEYSER: It's going to get settled at some point, and maybe it'll get settled because they're able to come up with a compromise that works for everybody that's, like, just total baseball stuff. But almost certainly, we'll get some of this, like, really dry legal stuff that comes into play in terms of how it shakes out and the stuff like who's on the NLRB board will start to come into effect.

Sorry. That's a dull note to end on.

JOSH GONDELMAN: No. I'm curious. I mean, yeah. We got a-- look. We're talking about speeding up the game. [LAUGHS]

HANNAH KEYSER: We're like, what if between every inning, they read a decision from the Supreme Court, and then we all broke it--


HANNAH KEYSER: --smaller groups and talk about what that has to do--

JOSH GONDELMAN: I love that--

HANNAH KEYSER: --current negotiations.

JOSH GONDELMAN: I love that the league is like, oh, you think the season's too slow? Get ready for the driest off season in history.

HANNAH KEYSER: And we will talk about it all here on The Bandwagon. Yeah. So maybe if there's major developments going forward, we'll talk about them. And if not, you'll just see us when there's baseball again. Woo!