By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The country feels like it’s upside-down at the moment. Protests are being held around the country in response to a police officer killing a black man on the street. Several instances of looting and rioting have followed. The president is calling for the military to move against citizens. Relations between communities and police forces are being held together by a thread in some places. Oh, and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic with no clear route to escape.
Do you know which group of people aren’t really suffering during this time? Owners of Major League Baseball teams. Billionaire owners of baseball teams are doing just fine, all things considered. Certainly, any MLB owner with a shred of self-awareness would know that now is not the time to come out and make an impassioned defense of MLB owners, as they squabble with players over how best to dole out money during a potential 2020 season.
But then there’s Tom Ricketts. The Cubs owner thought it was high time to stick up for his billionaire brethren who were being treated so unfairly by fans, players, agents and the media.
“The scale of losses across the league is biblical,” Ricketts told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.
Sounds a little hyperbolic — and that would be the case even in normal times. (The Bible’s really getting a workout for unintended uses this week, isn’t it?)
Nevertheless, allow us all to take a moment to shed a tear for the “biblical” losses in Major League Baseball. That must be extremely challenging for the billionaires involved.
Ricketts continued with some more sad stories about owners who are now apparently broke.
“The league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Ricketts told Rogers. “I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”
Ricketts argued that owners merely take all of their profits, pay their expenses, and then “give all the money left to their GM to spend.”
Perhaps Ricketts runs his team that way — the Cubs have spent quite a bit on payroll in Ricketts’ decade of ownership — but what about the Marlins? The Rays? Orioles? Pirates? White Sox? What about the “small market” Oakland A’s? Or the Royals?
Do “most” owners really take all of their profits and put the money right back into the roster? That doesn’t seem quite right.
For those holding out hope that baseball does return this year, Ricketts is here to assure you that owners want that to happen, too. (But also it might make more sense for baseball owners if baseball does not return, just so you know.)
“There are scenarios where not playing at all can be a better financial option, but we’re not looking at that,” Ricketts told ESPN. “We want to play. We want to get back on the field. … I’m not aware of any owners that don’t want to play. We just want to get back on the field in a way that doesn’t make this season financially worse for us.”
Heavens to Betsy. Would not want to make things financially worse for the owners. That would be unfathomable.
Obviously, the financials of owning a baseball team have changed, just like every aspect of every business in America has changed. These things happen when a pandemic hits a nation. That the nation was not particularly prepared to handle the effects of that pandemic has certainly made things worse for business owners and regular employees from coast to coast. Anyone can understand that.
But one thing Ricketts and the rest of his ownership brethren need to understand is that they need to stop using the term “losses.” They’re not losing anything. Their soaring profits from the business they purchased as a fun toy are temporarily dipping.
An honest owner would look at the situation from a much wider lens. Let’s say Big Mr. Team Owner Guy has owned his baseball team for 20 years. Let’s say that owner made money every year, from Year 1 to Year 20. It was a profitable, fun business endeavor for Big Mr. Team Owner Guy, and it made him quite happy.
Now in Year 21, the profits aren’t there. They just aren’t. There’s no money to be made as Big Mr. Team Owner Guy in Year 21, and that makes Big Mr. Team Owner Guy quite sad. What’s the point of owning a baseball team if it makes Big Mr. Team Owner Guy sad? He might as well just not play at all if that’s the case.
Now of course, what Big Mr. Team Owner Guy isn’t considering is how tone-deaf he and the rest of his friends look to be squabbling in the public eye during this national crisis. That’s not to say that players are 100 percent in the right, either. But we’re not talking about players right now. We’re talking about Baseball Owners™.
And what Baseball Owners™ are failing to see is that the American public is watching, and they’re listening. And frankly, if Baseball Owners™ and players can’t find a way to get on the field this year, the large chunk of fans who won’t come back in 2021 presents a very real problem if Big Mr. Team Owner Guy wants to start making profits in Year 22 and beyond. People who are actually struggling with real losses right now do not need to hear a woe-is-me routine from the owner of a Major League Baseball club.
(Additionally, Ricketts claiming that 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenue comes from ticket sales sounds extremely dubious, considering cable television broadcast deals for top teams these days reach into the billions with a B. Of course, Ricketts and his fellow owners could clear all of this up by opening up their books in a show of total honest but OK yes you are right I will stop right there. My bad.)
When you own a sports team for decades and make money every year except for one, it doesn’t count as a loss. It is a blip in an otherwise profitable business venture. Hearing the extraordinarily wealthy refer to anything right now as a “loss” hurts to just read. They ought to stop saying it.
And the next time one of the Baseball Owners™ decides the time is right to passionately defend his fellow Baseball Owners™, it would be best to just rein in that feeling and say nothing. Sometimes, nothing at all is the very best thing to say.