Kris Bryant

Posted by Jason Wojciechowski on March 30, 2015 at 10:09 PM

The core of Alex Hall's argument on Kris Bryant is:

But it's not illegal, and therefore it's legal.

This is incorrect as a matter of contract law, especially collective-bargaining contract law. Not everything that isn't explicitly banned by the letter of the agreement is something the employer is permitted to do. I don't know where this misconception came from, but it's time to end it.

This is not to say that the MLBPA would win a grievance. They might or might not. I know a whole lot of lawyers on Twitter, and of two that I engaged just today on the subject, one called my proposed MLBPA argument tenuous and the other agreed with me that it was at least plausible. I respect both of them based on my (granted, baseball-centered) interactions with them and have every reason to believe that both are very smart, very competent lawyers. There is lots of reasonable disagreement, in other words, on what the outcome would be! Which is to say: It is far from concluded whether MLBPA can manipulate service time this way.


The union's statement suggests that they will fight this type of thing in bargaining. Prove it. No, seriously, prove it MLBPA. I want you to. End this silly practice. But until that day, don't ever complain about it, because you are the only ones who can change it and you're on the cutting edge of not doing so.

The italicized portion -- my italics -- is wrong. It's called collective bargaining. It's a two-sided process. The MLBPA can propose to ownership that the rules be changed, and ownership can make counterproposals or reject any change at all or ask for concessions in other areas or any combination of things. It's bargaining. This, the idea that "MLBPA must act!" is also a pernicious misconception that must end.

Third, the idea that MLBPA should not speak out now because of CBAs it bargained in the past. First, the leadership and membership have changed -- a union is a dynamic thing, one that enters contracts and creates constitutions to which it is held, but still in the end an association of employees, and thus in some sense a new creature every time someone gets fired or retires or quits and someone new takes their place. Second, because we're again not talking about the plain and inarguable letter of the agreement but rather the way in which a team can behave in the absence of specific structures, the union might well believe that it negotiated, in some sense, a different deal than what ownership thinks it negotiated. In the event that ownership is acting on its interpretation, on its view of the contract and the legal world the contract creates, and that interpretation conflicts with the union's own, the union should keep its mouth shut because, hey, the CBA is in effect! No, of course not.

I'm now closing in on 500 words, so I want to be clear that this isn't aimed specifically at Alex. He's a convenient target because he writes at my favorite A's blog and he wrote some things in the linked post that reflect a larger conversation around baseball and the law that's been raging for a good hell of a long while at this point, and I think that larger conversation is lacking in knowledge of some very significant areas, most notably (1) law and (2) labor.

As long as I'm here, let me add one more point that is much less objective than the points I've made above: A notion of ethics or even morals is something I think we ought to promote in business rather than celebrating the pure concept of moneymaking above all else. We've created a political-legal-social scheme that allows firms to exist (thrive!) because we've judged the firm a useful construct. Where we go from that starting point (which is a starting point that's more contestable in theory than in practice, but which very much should be contested at least in theory -- but that's an aside, hence the parentheses) is up to us, and it's disheartening for me to see people choose the "firms exist to make money so they should attack all loopholes and possible rule interpretations with extreme prejudice in the interest of making more money" road, when there's a perfectly reasonable alternate road: "firms exist to advance society as a whole and should be constrained by social, and ideally legal, pressures when their moneymaking activities come at too much expense of others." Another way of saying this, I guess, is that I would like us not to say "baseball teams are businesses and so they should be applauded for demoting Kris Bryant" as our starting point. That's not our starting point. That's a moral/ethical choice that has been made from an earlier starting point. Recognition that there are other choices is the first step to reform.