Manfred, Clark Address Minor League Lawsuit

SAN DIEGO—The pending litigation over minor league player compensation has the attention of both commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association director Tony Clark.

Manfred and Clark addressed the lawsuit and other issues at their annual all-star press conference with the Baseball Writers Association of America before the All-Star Game.

The pending class-action lawsuit filed by former minor league players charges the current pay system violates federal minimum-wage requirements.

Running opposite to that lawsuit is a bill recently introduced into Congress called the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” which calls for the Fall Labor Standards Act to be amended to explicitly exclude minor leaguers from the current minimum wage laws. The bill was originally authored by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

After the bill drew widespread ire, Bustos, whose father, Gene Callahan, was MLB’s first lobbyist, withdrew her support. During her campaign, Bustos accepted a $2,000 donation from the comissioner’s office.

Manfred framed his office’s position in terms of labor law, rather than salary figures.

“This is not a dollars and cents issue,” Manfred said. “It is the irrationality of the application of traditional workplace overtime rules to minor league baseball players. It just makes no sense. If I want to take extra BP, am I working? Or am I not working? With travel, every moment you’re on a bus, is that your commute that you don’t get paid for, or is that working time? Where is the clock? Who is going to punch a clock to keep track of those hours? When you’re eating in the clubhouse, with a spread the employer provided, is that working time, or is that your lunch break?”

Clark’s response centered on the fact the MLBPA does not represent minor leaguers, only players on 40-man rosters.

“We represent the 1,200 40-man roster guys, which presents a bit of a challenge for the rest of the minor league players that we don’t represent,” Clark said. “We legally don’t have the ability to negotiate on their behalf.

Manfred ended the topic with a warning.

“We can figure out the economics,” he said. “The administrative burden associated with the application of these laws to professional athletes, which were never intended to apply to professional athletes, is the real issue. The litigation is going to run its course, but I have to tell you, this is an area where excessive regulation could have a really dramatic impact on the size of minor league baseball.”

Another area Manfred and Clark addressed was the possibility of an international draft. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires Dec. 1, and both sides indicated the issue has been brought up in preliminary talks.

However, when asked if baseball was close to having an international draft, Clark responded “No, not at this point.”

“On the surface it sounds great to suggest that everyone has a single way of entry.” Clark added. “Functionally it doesn’t work that way…. People are going to manipulate and navigate and tweak whatever system is in place.”

Here are other notable statements from Manfred and/or Clark on other issues facing the game:

On the draft and the qualifying offer system

Manfred: I think the amateur draft has been a principle reason for the level of competitive balance you have seen in recent years. It re-established the original purpose of the draft, which was to get the clubs who played the worst the year before access to the best talent. The pseudo-slotting system has done away with this nonsense that used to go on where the best player would get picked 21st because he had demands clubs didn’t think they’d be able to meet. I think that’s a really, really important change.”

“With the qualifying offer system, one thing people have to remember is draft choice compensation was a strike issue in this industry. We were down in 1981 over professional player compensation. We made a concession to the MLBPA that dramatically limited the number of players who were subject to draft choice compensation. Whether that worked out the way we thought it was going to or the way MLBPA thought it was going to, maybe not, but it is a very important component of the collective bargaining agreement. It’s an issue that the clubs paid dearly to secure that professional player compensation and it would be a major, major concession for us to make changes in that area.”

Clark: “I think there are a lot of moving pieces with regard to the domestic draft here. I think that as a result of the adjustments we made in 2011 it functions in a very interesting way. I think it is worth having more dialogue on (it) as a result of how the draft itself is navigated, both from the club side and the players side, while appreciating that amateur talent and young talent is tremendously valuable in our industry.”

“In relation to the qualifying offer, we went into 2011 with the goal of lessening the number of guys who carried compensation. Draft pick compensation has been around for a long time. It has caused work stoppages. It was initially put in place as a result of teams, perhaps in markets that made it difficult to compete that talent, provide some additional support should those players leave. The world has changed quite a bit since then, and as a result, despite the fact that we do have less guys now who carry compensation than in the past, a lot of what we have in place now, whether you are a big club or a small club, has not proven beneficial. We have had dialogue in that regard and will continue to as a result of some of the things that have happened since 2011.”

On baseball returning to the Olympics

Manfred: We’re going to have some meetings with the international baseball and softball federation to fully understand what the program is going to be in Tokyo, in terms of how long and how many, before we make any final decision on that issue. We like the idea of baseball being in the Olympics, we’re supportive of baseball being in the Olympics. From a calendar perspective, the dates of the (2020) Tokyo Games are not ideal.”

On youth participation

Manfred: “Sometimes when you focus on a topic you obscure the facts and the fact that I think is important to remember is the most played game among children under 12 years of age in the United States is baseball. We have a great base of young people under the age of 12 playing the game. We have a lot to work with there. It’s not like little kids all the sudden don’t find baseball appealing. In our effort to do even better I think we created the impression there is some crisis in play I don’t think really exists”

“I have been very vocal about the fact baseball needs to be really competitive in the youth space. It’s the key to passing baseball on to the youth generation. Kids have to play the game in order to produce lots of fans, which is what our business is about.”

On diversity in the game

Manfred: “Diversity encompasses all races and ethnicities. By any measure, baseball is more diverse today than it has ever been because of the presence of the large number of Latino players in addition to African-Americans. This is another place where the facts aren’t quite as bad as sometimes people make them out to be. About eight percent of our players are Africa-American. That’s not a number we love, but if you look at the last five drafts, 20 percent of the first round has been African-American. That is the fruit of specific programs that Commissioner Selig put in place that we have made tremendous efforts to grow during my short time as commissioner, among them would be Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program or the Urban Youth Academies. If you look at the 20 percent of the first-rounders almost all those kids have some connection to all of those programs that are beginning to bear fruit.”

“The absence of a Latino manager is glaring. The only thing I would say on this topic is there are 30 jobs, and there are 30 high-turnover rates, and you’re going to have an ebb-and-flow in terms of diversity given there is no central authority sitting above the 30 clubs saying ‘we want to have this makeup among these employees.’ Each individual club is out there trying to make the best decision as to how they’re going to win on the field.”

Clark: It’s disappointing that we find ourselves in the position with Latin managers nearly as we do with African-American managers. I firmly believe that having as diverse a system as possible is beneficial to this industry. Not just on the field but off the field as well. To be in a position where we don’t have those that reflect our membership in positions of leadership is disappointing. We are focused on and invested in doing everything we can to try and the arrow moving in that direction, particularly against the backdrop of the young people we are trying to connect.”

On the CBA, which expires Dec. 1, 2016

Manfred: “We (Tony Clark and I) have met face-to-face. I was in the opening sessions, we met in a small group two weeks ago, I think Tony and his staff have done an excellent job of getting the issues out early, on the table earlier probably than we’ve ever had before. It was a very orderly process of getting proposals on the table. We’ve got some work to do. It’s that phase now where you’ve got to dig in. I like the tone. I continue to believe we will come to an agreement without an interruption.”

Clark: “We have had formal dialogue meetings as early as March and continue to have those, all with an eye on finding some common ground before our Dec. 1 date. A lot has been discussed across multiple areas. I think both sides have a pretty good idea of where each other is and now we’ll see if we can find some common ground moving forward.”

On expansion or relocation

Manfred: “The Tampa and Oakland situations need to be resolved. Both of those clubs need new, major-league quality facilities and until that is resolved, I think expansion has got to be on the back burner for us.”

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