Swimming in money, Lords of Baseball soaking employees?

Hannah Foslien

Hey, if you work for a baseball team but you don't wear a uniform, this is one fine how-do-you-do:

Major League Baseball owners, despite boasting $8 billion in annual revenue and climbing, are moving toward eliminating the pension plans of all personnel not wearing big league uniforms, sources told ESPNNewYork.com.

--snip

The impact would affect much of the Major League Baseball family: front-office executives, trainers, minor league staff and scouts. Some of those personnel, particularly on the minor league level and in amateur scouting, make less than $40,000 a year and rely on pensions in retirement.

"My worry is not about myself, but for my wife and child should something bad happen to me," Detroit Tigers scout Mike Russell said Tuesday. "I am glad the club I work for does not support this."

Source: ESPNNewYork's Adam Rubin

Supposedly this came up last year, but White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf successfully lobbied against the change. This year it's coming up again, and apparently Reinsdorf has a real fight on his hands this time.

Here's Calcaterra Calcaterraing:

Major League Baseball is swimming in money. The people who choose to work in front offices often do so at great financial sacrifice in order to be involved in a business they love. To eliminate pension plans like this is shameful. Shameful and greedy. And Major League Baseball ought to be ashamed of itself if it carries out this plan.

I pretty much believe in soaking the rich (definition: anyone richer than I), and there are few richer than Major League Baseball's owners. I do think it's worth making a couple of points, though.

One, things are tough all over. Pension-wise, anyway. When it comes to retirement income -- and I'm speaking quite broadly here -- historically there have been three possibilities: savings/investments, employer-financed pensions, and Social Security. If you're lucky, you'll draw on the latter two; if you're lucky and smart, you might even enjoy all three. For the most part, pensions are now a thing of the past except for in the public sector.

Two, the costs of baseball pensions have presumably risen exponentially in the last few decades. There was a time when a baseball franchise might have just a few dozen full-time employees. I recently was looking up someone who works for the Blue Jays, and was shocked to find hundreds and hundreds of names. I don't know that all of those hundreds are eligible for pensions. But I'm sure there are a lot more of them than there used to be. It would be easier for me to pass judgement on the owners if we had some rough idea of how much money we're talking about. Is it $1 million per season, per team? That would seem chintzy. Is it $25 million? Now we're talking about some real money.

But of course things are rarely so easy, and it's probably a figure between those two, and probably toward the lower end of that scale. But I just don't know for sure.

In the old days, most of the owners thought of their teams as big families, of which they were the benevolent fathers. Or maybe it's just that the organizations were so small that owners knew everyone, and thus felt paternal. Today the organizations are so large and far-flung that an owner can't possibly know more than a fraction of his employees. It's difficult to empathize with people you don't know; and once empathy's gone, it's purely a business decision.

Now, you might argue that it's good business sense to take good care of your employees. This devotee of "lean" management argues that it does:

The two pillars of Lean are 1) reduction of waste activities and 2) respect for people. Some of the ways organizations respect their constituents are with fairness, sharing of best practices, making processes as simple to operate as possible, minimizing stressors, and making the employee-organization relationship a genuine partnership.

--snip--

This is a tough decision for Major League Baseball to make. As a former employee in the baseball industry, the hours can be grueling for very little pay but the industry has so much demand for so few positions. MLB from a capitalism standpoint can afford to cut benefits, but from a respect for people view they are being excessively frugal.

The whole pennywise/dollar foolish idea comes to mind. I’ve long since believed that MLB and minor league baseball employees should be treated as knowledgeable partners instead of warm bodies to churn through the system. There are so many workers who come into the industry with enthusiasm and gusto, and get worn down by the system so much that they leave the game they love because of the physical and mental toll.

That’s not respect for people...

Well, no. But with just a few exceptions, big companies aren't in the business of respecting people; they're in the business of sucking as money from their customers and as much labor from their employees as possible, while exacting the maximum amount of profits. They are not generally immoral; they are intrinsically amoral. Eliminating pensions isn't evil, and perhaps not even shameful.

Now, you might argue that it's bad business, because some employees will be less devoted to the cause and others simply won't hire on at all. But I gotta say, there's a pretty good chance this won't make a damned bit of difference. Bright, talented people get into baseball because they love the game, and they're not likely to be dissuaded by the lack of a pension. Particularly considering that so many other industries lack pensions, too.

You could cut baseball players' salaries by 25 percent, and you would lose very few baseball players because baseball players want to play baseball. You can cut pensions altogether, and you'll lose very few people who want to work for baseball teams, because the people who want to work for baseball teams really want to work for baseball teams.

Which doesn't make it right. Just so.

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