J. D. Thorne, speaker and author of the new book Baseball’s Winning Ways  (Available on Amazon Books).

“Striving to Reach Agreement”

“The importance of Appearances” is a subtopic in the classic management text, Negotiating a Labor Contract.  (Charles Loughran, The Bureau of National Affairs, Washington DC, 1984.)  Mr. Loughran prudently advises:


“One cannot overestimate the importance of appearances.  So often

how things look is as important as, or more important than, what they

are.  The Japanese concept of ‘saving face,’ which plays a vital part

in labor negotiations, is based on the notion that the side making

concessions should not be embarrassed by the impression others may have

of the way in which concessions were made.  Thus, an essential technique

for the management negotiator in avoiding or resolving an impasse is to

learn how to make the union negotiator look good to his constituents.”

[and vice-versa] (emphasis added)


Now just how can Commissioner Manfred’s crack team of negotiators do that?  “Pride can sometimes be just as important as economics,” wrote Mr. Loughran.  One of the ways he suggests is “Creative Writing.”  This is a technique whereby the parties who have not reached a complete meeting of the minds attempt to come up with language that will “carry the essence” of those aspects upon which agreement has been reached but leave vague the items on which on which they still disagree.  Sometimes this is known as “constructive ambiguity.”

The sport itself is on flimsy ground. There is too much to be gained by agreement by both sides now rather than furthering the risk of a work stoppage that could delay even training camp play.  I believe neither side wants to poke that public relations bear to bring pressure on the other.  Many great fans of baseball book trips to Arizona and Florida to watch spring training workouts and games.  Neither side benefits in a work stoppage.

So what to do now that the union demands face-to-face negotiations?  Both sides include experienced negotiators aware of the numerous complex issues involved of this “specialty” type of negotiation.  I agree with the union that the parties can do better themselves than using some third party explaining the merits of a position to persuade the other side, even if “impartial.”  It would only delay matters.  So Commissioner Manfred could discern that the union is ready to get serious.  In fact, he has no choice but to return to the table because clearly management cannot declare an impasse when the union signals it is willing to “dance” a little more.

I disagree with the sentiment MLB expressed that it does not make sense to reject federal mediation if a party wanted to reach an Agreement.  It could mean just the reverse.  Also, how does that kind of talk to the media act to “save face” for the union negotiators?  It only signals animosity, not strength, to me.  But I suppose with real deadlines coming up quickly such a response signals frustration too?

But I see a lot to work with creatively.  The parties agree in principle on the concept of establishing a “pre-arbitration ‘bonus pool” for younger players performing exceptionally well, such as Brewer’s Pitcher Corbin Burnes who won the NL Cy Young award and AL runner-up MVP Vlad Guerrero, Jr.  So, there is monetary difference only.  Although little movement was made in the last negotiations, maybe that is one area capable of some “creative writing?”

The Player’s Union has remained strong on its proposal for “Super Two” eligibility–the union wants all players with two years of service as opposed to the 22% allowed now.  This issue is likely very important to management to control.  More opportunity for creative writing?

Other issues involve the player minimum salary and the “competitive balance tax thresholds.”  The competitive balance threshold issue to me sounds more like the union encroaching on management prerogatives.  It has only indirect impact on salaries, in my opinion.  Can it be a union giveaway to reach an Agreement?  On minimum salaries, is it not just a new line to draw on increases in minimum salaries?  Can money be transferred there from other sources to make it a draw as far as expense to the owners?

Now how does one side save face for the other?  Agree when settlement is reached with a mutual announcement to the media; praise the negotiators on both sides for rolling up their sleeves and getting things done without a work stoppage; and agree to keep an open mind to all new concepts.  This where a little more management “inclusiveness” of the Player’s union and its representatives in operations might be the lubricant that unlocks the whole?


Sporting Chance Press includes books on sports including baseball. Our baseball books:

The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy’s Principles for Baseball (and Life)  also by J. D. Thorne

Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball’s Fred Merkle

Baseball’s Winning Ways