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Players and agents have ‘mounting’ frustration with Tony Clark’s MLBPA leadership

Friday’s Say Hey, Baseball looks at everything coming to a head this offseason.

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You might be wondering why the Major League Baseball Players Association is all of a sudden fighting the pace of play changes so hard. The shortest answer is that the MLBPA hasn’t done enough fighting in general for years now.

And it’s frustrating players who understand that the result of that inaction is this offseason in which the majority of free agents remain unsigned despite pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month.

According to Ken Rosenthal, who is reporting on the pace of play dispute, players and agents have “mounting” frustration with executive director Tony Clark and his leadership of the MLBPA. This is not surprising: Clark has been conciliatory toward ownership and hasn’t had the long-term vision of his predecessors who helped build the union into the most powerful in sports.

As a former player, Clark is great for listening to players. But the MLBPA also needs to listen to the agents who have been its allies for decades — something Clark does not do, to his and the union’s detriment. Clark might have a good idea of what the players want, but what the players need for the long term seems far more elusive.

Clark’s MLBPA has focused more on amenities than the players’ fair share of the ever-growing profits pie, to the delight of ownership. Amenities are good and all, but consider what the players negotiate away and then look at what they receive in return.

The MLBPA has not been united like in the past, though, this is not a new issue for it, either. As I wrote about when looking at the history of collusion, during the 1990 lockout, factions arose within the union that threatened to lessen its power in negotiations against the owners: Marvin Miller reminded it that “the future effectiveness of the union” was at stake if it couldn’t remain unified, and to the players’ credit, they rallied around that idea and fought back against the owners attempting to keep them off the field.

The players are dealing with a similar split now, though this offseason is likely to bring them closer together. The union negotiated away rights of future members when they helped institute a cap on draft spending and again when they limited international bonuses.

All of the focus has been on making sure free agents get paid, at the expense of the rest of the player pool: With free agents now not getting paid, it’s understandable that the union would find solidarity in its annoyance at both the owners and the leadership that helped bring it to this point.

Remember that when you’re wondering why it’s the pace of play issue that suddenly has the Players Union in a huff. It’s not about pace of play, not really. It’s about the future effectiveness of the union: 2021 and the next collective bargaining aren’t all that far away, and the MLBPA needs to find itself and what it wants and is capable of before that.

  • With free agency at a standstill, hypothetically, the A’s have a chance to show they’re serious and make a big move.
  • Hypothetically, because players aren’t just going to give in and sign contracts they feel are below market, and also the A’s would need to be serious and not just willing to go along with their role as a small-market team.
  • I missed this back when it first ran late last year, but it’s not like a ton is going on in the present: Here’s Jarrett Seidler looking at the moral questions that MLB faces on the international market.
  • Prince Fielder was forced into early retirement from MLB, but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting at home: He’s got a cooking show now.