Don’t Play Ball With the Government

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A Better Idea Than a Baseball Strike

by James Ostrowski

To Major League Baseball players: Your last strike cost you many devoted fans including this writer. I have a better idea for you than going on strike on August 30th. Start your own league. If the greedy owners are exploiting you; if you are the product; if no one comes to a game to see the owner juggle martinis in his luxury box, then you guys can start your own league and keep all the profits derived from the sweat of your brows. If there was ever an ideal instance for proving the labor theory of value, it is professional sports, a business where what the players do on the field or court appears to constitute the entirety of the enterprise and one wonders what in the world those fat old cigar-smoking, bourbon-slugging owners do to earn all those millions.

I have some bad news for the players, though. Even if you guys could, in theory, start your league and make a lot more money, the fact that you haven’t already done so proves that you never had what it takes to do it in the first place. You didn’t have the entrepreneurial insight that successful business requires. You guys hit home runs and make double plays; you don’t invent new forms of doing business. But don’t feel bad. It is not like all you had to do was think up the idea. You lacked all the other skills needed to carry it out: management, marketing, raising capital, risk-taking, advertising, legal, accounting and so on. You guys are baseball players, not businessmen. Stick to what you do well. Babe Ruth may have been the best player of all time, but he could not have operated a lemonade stand.

By all means, however, try to get the highest salaries you can get. That’s capitalism, right? Yes, that’s capitalism, but baseball is not capitalistic. No, not because it is exempt from antitrust laws. Antitrust is just an elaborate scam whereby mediocre businessmen and envious bureaucrats join forces to destroy successful entrepreneurs. The free market needs no help promoting competition from that ultimate monopoly, the federal government, which showed what it thought about competition when the South seceded from the union. Too bad the feds are exempt from antitrust laws.

I have three things in mind when I say that baseball is not capitalistic. First, it has socialized its stadium costs by forcing taxpayers to pay for them. You players also participate in this socialist scheme because the less money your team needs to spend on capital and real estate, the more money there is available to pay your salaries. So please don’t give me any rhetoric about free agency when the very fields you play on were built with the slave labor of taxpayers. Besides, baseball players (even Curt Flood) always were free agents. They were free to play baseball for any human being who was willing to pay them.

Second, your players’ union has monopoly power over your employers, granted by federal union laws, above and beyond any right or power available in a free market. The owners must deal with a union chosen by a majority of the players. Hey, whatever happened to free agency: the freedom of the owners to contract with individual players if they want to? It was this monopoly power to destroy the owners’ free agency that ultimately led to the replacement of the "reserve clause" with an alleged "free agency." This in turn has led to the problems that plague baseball today: revolving door rosters that fail to generate fan interest or loyalty, and domination of sports by two or three wealthy teams. If "free agency" was anti-monopoly, how did it deliver a monopoly on the World Series to the Yankees?

Third, baseball, like any other business, is not capitalistic because its owners and workers must pay exorbitant corporate and income taxes. Remember free agency, the first principle of all professional athletes in team sports? Remember how you called the reserve clause legalized slavery and involuntary servitude. I suggest you guys ask your accountants how much you would be making without the government taxing you against your will and treating you as involuntary servants. And ask your accountants to estimate how much more you could be paid if your employers’ corporate and income taxes were abolished as well.

Imagine what would happen if professional baseball players, joined by their colleagues in football, basketball, and hockey, called for free agency for taxpayers. For lots of reasons, some good, some bad, the players are always blamed for striking. You will always lose that public relations battle. Here’s a battle where public opinion will be on your side. Forget the baseball strike; instead, strike at our confiscatory tax laws that make you modern-day tax slaves. And forget what your union officials say. You are free agents, aren’t you?

August 23, 2002

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.

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