Former union official thinks there's room for compromise in baseball negotiations - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Former union official thinks there’s room for compromise in baseball negotiations

Photo Courtesy of Greg Bouris

With players and owners squabbling over terms for opening of the 2020 season, Greg Bouris has a unique vantage point to talk about it.

For nearly two decades, Bouris was the director of communications for the Major League Baseball Players Association. He’s also worked for sports teams, including the NHL’s New York Islanders and Florida Panthers.

Today, Bouris is the president of power x communications, a sports marketing organization. He’s also the undergraduate sport management program director at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.

This interview has been edited for length.

Question: How confident are you that we’re going to have a 2020 season?

Bouris: “Very complicated for many reasons. First and foremost, I would have to say the health and safety and the science is still probably going to be a driving force, even at this stage as more states are loosening things. I still think there’s a wait-and-see approach on the health, safety and science piece of this.

“Hopefully, things proceed as everybody hopes they will. Parking that aside, the baseball issue and negotiations between the players and owners, I could only at this stage put it 50-50 at best, if I’m to assess a percentage only because I think both sides are looking at very complex realities.

“From the owners’ perspective, not having a live gate, not being able to sell tickets and popcorn and hot dogs and beer and soda, parking, and all of that revenue that comes with that, that’s a significant loss.

“From the players’ perspective, they’ve made great strides, agreeing to play for a prorated portion of their pay. Nothing’s impossible, but I think it’s a very difficult decision for players to play for less than what their contracts guarantee them, even under a prorated basis.

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“Players are willing to take half of what a contract calls for if they’re playing half the games, but I think it goes against every ounce of what hundreds, thousands of players fought for, for 50 years in terms of protecting the sanctity of contracts.

“From the union perspective and its members, there is one golden rule: Players should never ever agree, after signing a contract, they should never ever agree to play for anything less than what their contract provides unless they’re getting something of equal or greater value in return, and I think those pieces put us in the crosshairs of the stalemate.”

Q: Is there a way out of it, say deferred money, even if it takes a couple of years to return to economic normalcy?

A: “Yes, absolutely, I do think there’s a way creative minds can look at the situation. I think both sides can show a little more empathy toward one another and come up with a solution that allows owners and clubs because they’re not created equal; they all don’t have the same wealth. The debt’s different from club to club, so not every team’s circumstance are going to be the same.

“From the players’ perspective, I think there would be, I would assume, and I don’t want to put words in their mouths, a great sense to understand and sympathize with that and agree to defer their contracts as well as listen to other solutions that the owners might present that allow players to receive something else in return for their actual payment.

“A couple of ideas: lifetime healthcare. These players are going to be non-players for a very long time. It might be enticing for players to be offered some type of health benefits for them and their families, and that would come with value.

“Players might be willing to give up a portion of their salaries today to guarantee that in the future.

“For the highest-paid players, some might be willing to take a percentage of the franchise in terms of equity in return for the payment he would lose, the millions the player would lose in a season or two if this continues and the gate’s affected over the course of two years.

“I think there are solutions, but it’s going to require both parties to kind of erase the slate as to what we’ve seen publicly, maybe erase the slate and look at what they can do for the other party to get them on the field.”

Q: Are you concerned that because we’ve heard so much from both sides that they’re dug in, and might not be able to find a way out?

A: “I don’t think it’s ever stopped them in the past. Having been in that world for nearly 20 years, that’s why our focus from a communications perspective, the advice to players, even though we had no gag orders, our suggestion to players was always, don’t take this fight publicly.

“Keep the focus on the field, communicate your love, desire and passion for the game and take the business issues and disagreements behind closed doors because at the end of the day, that’s where the players have the leverage.

“The public isn’t going to decide this one way or the other. It’s going to be up to the players and the owners to decide this. Despite the rancor, when they get behind closed doors, it can get hot and intense behind those closed doors, but at some point in time, you hope for a watershed moment or breakthrough in the negotiations and then everybody’s tension is released a little bit, and they can start to focus on something tangible that makes sense for both parties and they can get to a mutually agreed upon resolution to the issue at hand.

“I don’t think the public rancor will hold them up from making the right agreement, but I think at this stage, I think it’s clear the owners have no interest in playing unless the players are going to play at a drastically reduced discount, and for obvious reason, the players just can’t do that.”

Q: The public never seems to sympathize with the players in any labor dispute but, because of the pandemic, could this time be different? Could players bend because of public opinion?

A: “I don’t think so. The players always want to play. They understand their responsibility to the fans, and they understand the fans’ desire to see them play, and they also get for the most part that fans are never going to side with them because in the fans’ minds, they’re getting paid to play a child’s game.

“But it’s big business. It’s tremendous business. All of the players or most of the players understand that this is a big business and decisions made today will have an impact a year from now, 10 years from now, and I don’t think the players would be swayed by public opinion to compromise on what they’ve fought so hard for for 50 years and lose that for the future.

“It might be able to resolve something in the short term, but what detrimental impact would it have for future generations of players? I don’t think that any generation of players wants to leave the game worse off for future generations of players.

“At the end of the day, the players want to play, and just like the owners, it has to make sense.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    June 2, 2020 at 8:36 am

    “I don’t think the players would be swayed by public opinion to compromise on what they’ve fought so hard for for 50 years and lose that for the future.”

    Really Mr. Bouris? These are kids. They haven’t “fought” for spit. They’re simple ballplayers. These words are the rhetoric of the union.

    Health considerations aside, these kids need to be men and take one for the country.

  2. willmiranda

    June 2, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Aside from the basic “pox on both their houses,” my mild sympathies are with the players. They are
    the ones who do the work that brings in the money. And there’s lots of money –tons and tons of it.
    If, by commercializing the game, the owners are going to extort all this lucre from the fans, the day
    laborers of short careers should get their share. If the owners cut back the prices and royalties, then
    we’ll talk. Let’s go back to free, no-cable charge TV, 50-cent parking, 25-cent hot dogs –you know the drill.
    As far as I know, most owners are independently wealthy –very wealthy– and none has ever sold a team
    at a loss. As I said, this is a mild favoritism because the players do make an obscene amount of money.
    But if it’s there, they deserve the lion’s share. Disclaimer: I am not, and have never been, a member of the
    Communist Party, nor a Socialist. The only union I ever joined was as a teenage Western Union messenger.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 2, 2020 at 11:45 am

      Will, my father worked for Western Union for 49 years.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      June 2, 2020 at 1:01 pm

      Will … do you remember no-cable charge TV? I do. What I remember most about no-cable charge TV is that a large majority of your home games were not televised locally. And not all your road games were seen either.

      I have no problem giving MASN a piece of my cable bill what- so-ever.

      And frankly, the only .25 cent hot dogs I can remember were the old Bowl America weekend league signup drives of the ’80s.

      • willmiranda

        June 2, 2020 at 3:46 pm

        Thanks for the comments, Boog. For the record, I remember no-cable TV, the kind of “broadcast television” the new rabbit-ears company is peddling on cable. I was a kid in New York, and, although away games were not broadcast, all (as I remember it) home games of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants were broadcast. With outstanding announcers, by the way. Of course, in those days, the World Series were always home games in NY. I’m not advocating a return to the Good Ol’ Days; i am saying that if you’re going to live with scale of commercialization we have today, I think the players should get a big chunk of the money. I don’t think you’d be happy paying MASN to broadcast the Angelos brothers going over spreadsheets.

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          June 2, 2020 at 10:27 pm

          Brooklyn Dodgers Wil? You make me feel young again.

          But in Massachusetts where I cut my baseball chops, the Sox didn’t broadcast their home games very often. And I’ve always assumed that was so the tickets would be sold. They haven’t always sold out every game.

  3. CalsPals

    June 2, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Have to agree w/Boog, where do you draw the line on an OBSCENE amount of money, they make more than many school districts entire budgets for a year, I have no problem with them making twice what I make, my wife & I live comfortably, we paid our sons way through college, he is in his 3rd yr of the US Army, you can easily multiply what my wife & make by 15x & there is a still a disparity, hard to feel sorry for ANY of the players at this point…go O’s…

    • ClayDal

      June 2, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      As has been pointed out, baseball players making less money doesn’t mean that teachers, fireman, police and military make more. The contracts that players sign are voluntary agreements made with the full consent of the owners. Nobody forced Peter Angelos to give Chris Davis 161 million. Been following baseball since 1968 and one constant is that the owners are always crying poor. This is when the average salary was around 30 thousand. Chris Davis makes that much in an at bat ( actually more). Ultimately, some deal gets done. Both sides have too much to lose. Of course all it will take is one positive test and it will all be shut down again

    • CalsPals

      June 2, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      I agree, I never said they’d get more, you did, BUT they should, I don’t care if educators get more ( my families fine) but the obscene amounts doesn’t seem warranted, the idiot owners created their own monster here, because someone draws a line in the sand & won’t pay crazy amounts, some other big market butt head will (see Yankees, Red Sox)…go O’s…

    • ClayDal

      June 2, 2020 at 2:05 pm

      Cal, the only thing consistent about you is your inconsistency. You lament the Orioles not spending money to improve the ball club, manipulating service time on players like Hays and Mountcastle, and then complain about the obscene amount of money the players get. Owners sign these players to these ridiculous contracts. Players want to be paid the contracts they agreed on, nothing more. I don’t take sides on these disputes because much of this is just posturing before they make a deal. But just remember, when Adley Rutschman signs for 600 million in 2028 with the Dodgers, don’t yell at the Orioles for being cheap. People complain about baseball salaries in the abstract, but they want their team to pay their favorite players.

    • CalsPals

      June 2, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      NEVER said anything about the O’s not spending money & NEVER said anything about Hays…you must be confusing me w/someone else…overall too much $ spent (MLB) on guys playing a game…go O’s…

  4. Bancells Moustache

    June 2, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    So there’s a 50/50 chance Major League Baseball pursues the most destructive course of action in it’s 150 year history. Wonderful.

  5. BobKominski

    June 2, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    The last comment hits the nail on the head. BOTH sides are greedy, and if they continue their obstinance, soon there will be NBA, NHL, MLS and a variety of other sports going on every day to help many people just walk away from baseball. A calendar year with NO baseball will only cause damage to the sport at a high and lasting level. I dont care if they play a 118 game sked; i dont care if they play a 50 game sked; i dont care if they play a “stars of the future’ league with only minor leaguers in spring training cities with NO fans ever this year. (The minor leaguers have NO contract negotiation rights and are ARE NOT covered by the union – this would essentially be their minor league season.) BUT – they better figure out how to have a season of some sort this year – or they will be damaged for years.
    It’s a different world – everyone needs to adapt.

  6. Birdman

    June 2, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    An informative but discouraging interview with Mr. Bouris. As someone who has belonged to a union, and has been generally more sympathetic to the players than the owners over the years, I must admit that I have mixed feelings this time.

    When teams negotiated their current player contracts, that was obviously done with the expectation of ticket and concession revenue, in addition to television revenue. The union’s demand to be paid full pro-rated salaries, without taking into account the loss of ticket and concession revenue to the teams, does not seem reasonable under the current unanticipated circumstances.

    If the season is entirely cancelled, the star players will weather it without significant financial pain. But the more marginal players, guys who may only have a 3 or 4 year MLB career, will take a big hit that can affect the rest of their lives. Hopefully, a compromise can be worked out, perhaps something like Mr. Bouris mentioned to provide lifetime health care for the players and their families, in lieu of full pro-rated salaries

  7. Phil770

    June 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    The owners will always be perceived as wrong and greedy. There seems to be this belief that the owners will still have money coming in from advertisers, but that is no guarantee that advertisers, especially local, won’t back out of agreements. The best margin revenue is at the gate, with that gone there is less flexibility. So revenues are down and risky.The owners will need to pay minor leaguers in order to retain them; plus the 20-man taxi squad, the 4 additional salaries at least major league minimums. There will be owners that will find it fiscally more palatable to not have a season. If they are as wealthy as everyone says they are, they can survive. If not… who knows.

  8. OriolesNumber1Fan

    June 2, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    On a different note than the current players crying poverty…. According to reports, the Orioles have an agreement with Samuel Basallo, the top catching prospect in the Dominican Republic. Baseball America said he is likely to get a bonus in the $1 million to $1.5 million range. He will not turn 16 until Aug. 13, meaning he can’t sign until that date or later if MLB pushes the usual July 2 date back past his birthday.

    At 6-foot-3, Basallo is described as a player “that will have to stay on top of his mobility to remain at catcher, but he has power tools in his arm strength and raw power, with a shorter stroke for a 15-year-old his size from the left side of the plate.”

    The report said the O’s have agreed with corner outfielder Wilmer Feliciano of the Dominican Republic for a bonus just short of $500,000. He is described with “big raw power.”

    Per Baseball America, the O’s have an agreement with Venezuelan-born shortstop Maikal Hernandez. Baseball America describes him as “a long, lean shortstop at 6-foot-4, 175 pounds, but he has a chance to stay at the position because of his athleticism. He’s a plus runner with a strong arm and big power that he generates relatively easily, giving him a chance to develop into a power-speed threat.”

    Here’s hoping these players come through the system and do very well and I’m not talking money here. Lol

    • CalsPals

      June 2, 2020 at 5:25 pm

      Awesome hearing something positive regarding the O’s…thx #1…go O’s…

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 2, 2020 at 9:22 pm

        You’re very welcome, Cal. Hopefully we can have another great draft and start to turn the corner soon! Here’s where we might go differently, you kinda want to see the young players asap. Where I like to see that the Orioles wait until they’re banging on the door because they’re doing so great. This way, Orioles can maximize their time in the majors and have a longer winning window! But in the big picture we both want the best when it comes to the Orioles.

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          June 3, 2020 at 7:27 am

          I don’t necessarily speak for Cal, but it’s not that I want to see the younger players as soon as possible, it’s just that I believe the best players deserve to be on the big club. The fans deserve no less.

    • CalsPals

      June 3, 2020 at 8:02 am

      Agree, I’ve always felt (40 yrs coaching) you play your best, if they’re younger, older, whatever, play your best…go O’s…

  9. dlgruber1

    June 2, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    “From the players’ perspective, they’ve made great strides, agreeing to play for a prorated portion of their pay.” Wow! That’s very big of them. Back in the day the players had my support. I always said the fans aren’t at the games to see the owners. But they’ve SO lost touch with the fans they I can no longer support their positions. The owners asked them for revenue sharing for this season only, they said it won’t be an issue in the next CBA. For the players to reject that, well, to hell with them.

  10. BirdsCaps

    June 2, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    Not expecting saber rattling would be out of the question, but this is getting tiresome. The premier league for soccer (allegedly a sport) is starting on 6/17. If the darn Europeans playing footsie and picking daisies can return w/o a fuss mlb needs to come back too.

    • willmiranda

      June 3, 2020 at 10:00 am

      The Bundesliga is already going full throttle. Some games are on Fox and other cable channels. No fans, but no commercial
      interruptions, either. Canned crowd noises –I guess like those teams use in practice– make it semi-realistic. The play, at least
      to a newbie like me, seems just as good as before the break. I don’t think there’s a population less vulnerable to serious viral
      complications than athletic young men with no sign of the virus. Except, of course, for similarly healthy young women.

  11. OriolesNumber1Fan

    June 3, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    Well then the “Best player” at catcher was brought up in 2018 after a batting a whopping .242 in 38 games for Norfolk then proceeded to bat .181 in 63 games for the Orioles. Nice job!

    And this is my point. Started the clock on Sisco so he now has a little over 1 year of service. If they play this year at 50 plus games, he would have 2 plus service years after splitting time with starter Severino at 25 games. Nice. In 2021 if he starts to play more and turns the corner, he would have just 3 more quality years of service with the Orioles. Nice investment! And I didn’t even mention how catchers get nicked up or worst case hurt like he already has with the Orioles. 3 maybe quality good years out of six at best. And there’s that word again. Maybe you guys can see this point, maybe you don’t.

    • CalsPals

      June 3, 2020 at 5:57 pm

      Herm Edwards said it best, “You play to win the game “, don’t need to say anymore…go O’s…

  12. OriolesNumber1Fan

    June 3, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    Wow that’s Brilliant Captain Obvious! I made my point!

    • CalsPals

      June 3, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      Back to normal, I knew it wouldn’t take long…as always, you’re way to easy…go O’s…

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 3, 2020 at 8:31 pm

        No, my apologies. No Oriole games and sports in general is making me a little ticked off. The last “live sports fix” I got to watch was the match between Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady vs Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning.

        • willmiranda

          June 3, 2020 at 10:00 pm

          Was that a Vince McMahon tag team production?

          • OriolesNumber1Fan

            June 4, 2020 at 3:53 pm

            Yessa, and that’s the bottom line cause Stone Cold said so! Lol

    • CalsPals

      June 4, 2020 at 12:57 pm

      Accepted, tough time for all of us with “athletic” based lifestyles, even if I’m getting older…go O’s…

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