Governor J.B. Pritzker is "disappointed" in Major League Baseball players?
That's what you might have seen Tuesday afternoon.
Our state's leader weighed in on baseball's brewing labor battle during his daily press briefing, taking aim at the players as they prepare for negotiations with the owners on a way to stage a shortened 2020 season.
"I must say," Pritzker said, "I'm disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for these very, very high salaries and payments during a time when I think everybody is sacrificing."
That's the sound bite, the tweet. And it's not a inaccurate representation of his comments.
Here they are, in full:
"I realize that the players have the right to haggle over their salaries," he said. "But we do live in a moment where the people of Illinois, the people of the United States deserve to get their pastime back to watch, anyway, on television.
"If they're able to come up with safety precautions, as has been suggested by Major League Baseball, that works, I hope that the players will understand that the people of our United States need them to recognize that this is an important part of the leisure time that all of us want to have during the summer, to watch them play baseball, to root for our favorite teams. We need that back, that normalcy back, and I hope they'll be reasonable as they negotiate.
"But I must say, I'm disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for these very, very high salaries and payments during a time when I think everybody is sacrificing."
While the governor spoke without having all the facts — players are not "holding out" — his answer is not the biggest problem here. It's the question he was asked, a question that did no justice to the governor, the players or the complex economics of baseball that everyone is getting a crash course in this week. The question pointed him in the direction of describing the players, who have plenty of important concerns about being asked to return to work in the middle of a pandemic, as the bad guys, and that's what he did.
"Given baseball owners have a plan to start games in July, what do you tell Major League Baseball players who want to haggle over salaries, even if all the safety precautions are taken?"
That question assumes that there's nothing wrong with the proposal to start the season baseball's owners approved Monday, the one the league began negotiating with the players' union Tuesday.
That question assumes the proposal addresses all the safety concerns, and all it took was one look at Sean Doolittle's Twitter feed to come up with a dozen questions regarding how the league would be able to assure the health and safety of players and all the others it takes to stage a baseball season.
And that question takes a side, painting the players as "hagglers" when they're under the impression they already agreed to their own concessions earlier this year. It assumes the owners are in the right and the players are standing in their way.
I'm not trying to throw the reporter who asked it under the bus. I'm trying to explain why you saw the governor of Illinois slamming baseball players Tuesday.
As mentioned, no one is "holding out" at the moment, as negotiations are just getting started. Now, the details of that proposal that came out Monday provoked responses from the players that were anything but receptive, with the financial aspects of the plan being described as a "non-starter." NBC Sports Chicago's Adam Hoge was told that the proposal was "doomed to fail."
The players believe they already made their deal to sacrifice in these unprecedented circumstances, agreeing to prorated salaries in the event of a shortened season. But with baseball's revenues expected to sharply decline with games being played without paying customers in the stands, the owners are searching for additional cost-cutting measures. The owners believe the language in that earlier agreement allows them to ask for further concessions from the players, while the players believe the matter is resolved.
The owners are pitching revenue sharing, in which the players would get half of the revenue from the 2020 season, which remember is going to be drastically lower than usual without fans in the stands.
The players view this as the league attempting to institute a salary cap.
"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," union chief Tony Clark told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal on Monday. "None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season — which continues to be our sole focus."
The question posed to Governor Pritzker on Tuesday left all that out. Without having all that information, it's difficult, if not impossible to have an informed opinion on the matter.
On top of all of the financial matters, there are the important concerns about the health and safety of a massive group of people that goes far beyond players and includes coaches, training staff, front office staff, stadium staff, food-service staff, hotel staff, transportation staff and those needed to broadcast games on TV. With that many people going to work in the middle of a pandemic, there are obviously tons of questions about the league's ability to provide a safe work environment. And players are rightfully concerned about potentially exposing themselves, their co-workers and their families to a virus that is not contained.
It's true that the optics of millionaires and billionaires arguing over how to divide up billions of dollars at a time when tens of thousands of Americans have lost their lives and tens of millions have lost their jobs are about as poor as can be imagined.
But while there probably aren't many baseball fans who even want to hear about financial fighting between the two sides, the situation is complicated, something anyone — governors included — should realize before weighing in.