Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Collusion or Delusion? [Follow Up]

In doing some more research on the topic of my previous post, I came across this article by Tim Marchman published in the National Review, back in December of 2003. He (not surprisingly) goes into more depth about the history of collusion in MLB than I did, and adds that joint holdouts were another big reason for the inclusion of the anti-collusion language in the CBA. He also says:
It was for violating this deal in the 1980s that owners agreed in the early 1990s to pay the players $280 million, a payment which drove expansion as owners sought to recoup the money by charging huge fees for the rights to new teams. Sandy Koufax decides he'd like to get paid something like what he's worth, and 40 years later you get to watch the Florida Marlins cavorting around in teal uniforms; what better illustration of the law of unintended consequences?
See what you can learn on these here Internets? The impetus of his post were "the ominous shadows of collusion falling across this weekend's winter meetings in New Orleans [in 2003]". These "shadows" stemmed from the exploitation of a seeming loophole the owners found in the CBA. At the time, the MLBPA was considering filing a grievance alleging that the owners were flooding the markets with free agents, according to Marc Edleman.

In his 2005 paper "Has Collusion Returned To Baseball?" Edleman details how, following the 2002 World Series, many teams began to talk about shedding payroll. Then, on Dec 20th, clubs simultaneously non-tendered 46 arbitration eligible players including Pudge Rodirguez and other top level talent, thereby devaluing the price of all free agents (Edleman gives specific examples if you have time to read the essay). This also redefined that year's "fair-market value" and adversely affected outcomes of the hearings of the players who accepted arbitration.

Edleman says, "Federal antitrust law finds that an agreement to effect price exists even when there is a tacit or inferred agreement", and cites two cases involving American Tobacco and Monsanto (Sidenote: watch The Corporation) as indicators that the arbitrator may rule against the owners. He concludes:

When considering both the documented series of events that occurred during baseball’s 2002–03 off-season and their economic effects, it seems plausible that a baseball grievance arbitrator may find that Major League Baseball clubs once again violated baseball’s “collusion clause”.

This was of course written before the decision was handed down, and he was right to take an somewhat ambiguous stance.

Marchman's take was different, essentially dismissing the charges of collusion (also before any ruling had been handed down). He proposes a hypothetical situation in which two GMs are talking about each others arbitration cases and who they will or will not non-tender that year. He deduces that similar scenarios were probably unfolding at the time in team offices throughout the league, one at a time, but was likely not in violation of the CBA.

The owners did have to pay, but only $12M, and with no admission of guilt.

In light of this, the circumstances I laid out yesterday seem pretty frivolous and almost certainly won't result in any judgment against the owners, considering they non-tendered 46 players on the same fucking day, and didn't have to admit any guilt.

I just really don't like the thinly veiled, tacit encouragement to scale back spending that Selig endorsed when he asked Volcker to address the owners and executives. Like I said in the previous post, maybe the owners would have come to that conclusion anyway. So why allow the appearance of impropriety? Perhaps Bud could have presented Volcker as a resource for the owners to contact individually if they had specific questions.

It just gives a lot of credence to the sentiment that since Selig was an owner, he is now a stooge for the owners. Baseball will be better off if their next commissioner has the betterment of the game in mind, instead of the interests of the owners alone.

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