Geoff Smith | From the Baseline: Battle between MLB owners, players worth watching

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When the coronavirus pandemic stopped sports in its tracks, the impacts were immediate and jarring. There were no games, no live events to see, no practices, nothing.As the shutdowns across the country continued, there started to become a growing sense of worry about the financial impacts the virus would have on teams at all levels.

This week, COVID-19 hit financial security out of the park, if you will, in Major League Baseball.

When the news first came out that teams and owners have come up with a plan for a truncated season, it seemed like a real breakthrough. Baseball on the Fourth of July? Sign me up.

But then, money got in the way. Pesky thing sometimes.

Now as players and owners fight their millionaires vs. billionaires battle, it's starting to become concerning about how our professional sports teams operate.

Debt is a complicated thing, and what little I know dictates that some debt isn't bad. Heck, my beloved soccer team, Manchester United, is riddled with it. I digress.

When reading a The Associated Press story that appeared in the Sunday Eagle about finances, I had to read it several times to grasp the numbers being thrown around. Here was a disturbing one: "Teams project to increase their debt from $5.2 billion last year to $7.3 billion in 2020, leaving most clubs out of compliance with the labor contract's debt service rule."

That's a lot of money.

To compound the debt issues coming, is the news that players aren't exactly falling over themselves to agree to a revenue split with owners. Which is slightly confusing, because they did agree to receive a portion of their salaries on March 26 in a deal with teams. The money would be calculated based on the percentage of a 162-game season played. The crux there, though, was that there would be no restrictions on fans in the ballpark.

But a fan-free attendance is what's coming, at least if the MLB is intent on starting around July 4.

Commence the finger pointing.

"There's so many ways to hide the money," said Trevor Bauer, pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, said about the owners in a different AP article. He went on to theorize that owners can make up revenue by increasing the parking at lots they own around the stadium, and won't share the money with the players.

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MLBPA executive director Tony Clark spoke harshly about what he perceives as owners trying to institute a salary cap, telling The Athletic: "A system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap, period. This is not the first salary-cap proposal our union has received. It probably won't be the last. That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they've failed to achieve in the past — and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days — suggests they know exactly how this will be received. "

Does this sound like the type of talk from a group willing to negotiate about a revenue split?

The impacts of a lockout would be astronomical. Jeff Passan for ESPN took a look at some of the potential scenarios that could happen. For both sides, the outcome is what you would call "not great."

There's a lot of talking still to be done on both sides and I'm willing to bet that when push comes to no paycheck at all, players and owners are going to feel their empty pockets and start grabbing pens.

But until then, there could be a nasty legal battle ahead. I'm sure other sports leagues are watching in interest.

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There's been a lot of talk about video games recently, whether in the pages of The Eagle through the marvelous Jake Mendel or on our television sets. It's a good time to remember that one of Berkshire County's own is repping Pittsfield on one of the biggest e-sports stages — the NBA 2K League.

Jordan Gates, better known in the 2K world as Vert, is playing with Lakers Gaming again this year. Vert is in his third year with Lakers Gaming, after being drafted by the franchise in 2018.

Unfortunately for the virtual Purple and Gold, the start of the season has been rough. The Lakers Gaming crew is off to an 0-4 start through the first two weeks of the season.

Vert and Co. will look to bounce back this week, starting on Tuesday when Lakers Gaming plays Warriors Gaming Squad.

If you want to watch Lakers Gaming in action and root on one of our own, you can search NBA2KLeague on Twitch and YouTube to find the league's official streaming pages.

Geoff Smith can be reached at gsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.


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