NEW YORK - JANUARY 06: Owner Hal Steinbrenner talks to the media during a press conference to announce Teixeira's signing to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on January 6, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

As negotiations to restart the season continue, New York Yankees chairman Hal Steinbrenner has a chance to be the voice of reason.

Josh Benjamin

Dear Hal Steinbrenner,

I’ve been a baseball fan all my life. The New York Yankees are practically a religion in my house. And yet, none of us were prepared for what 2020 would do to the sport we love so much.

You see, sir, the COVID-19 pandemic is entirely unprecedented in the sports world. It affects everybody, players and owners alike. Spring training stopped just two weeks ahead of Opening Day, an exciting 2020 campaign so close the fans could taste it.

Today, however, there seems little reason for hope. The NBA and NHL have come to respective agreements with their players’ unions to resume their seasons. As of now, the NFL seems primed to return in some fashion in the fall.

And where is MLB in all of this? Its owners and players are bickering over money, per usual. Oh, don’t worry about the CBA expiring in 18 months. Asking the players to take a financial hit here won’t affect that at all, right?

Wrong. Not to sound like a broken record, but baseball will have a very hard time recovering from a lost season. An agreement must be reached, and the call for a truly fair one must come from the owners’ side.

In fact, let it come from someone who owns a team in the nation’s largest media market; someone who has largely stayed silent throughout the process. Let the call for unity come from Hal Steinbrenner, and some dominos may start to fall.

A reluctant voice

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who knows anything about Hal Steinbrenner knows public speaking isn’t exactly your forte. Whereas your father, George Steinbrenner, ran the team with an iron fist and bombastic personality, you’ve largely hung out in the background. He was the face of the franchise and wasn’t shy about hiring and firing managers, not to mention making some crazy trades. You, meanwhile, are more than happy to delegate those tasks to general manager Brian Cashman.

Which brings us to the next and, probably, most important point at hand. Speaking out publicly on baseball-related matters is not something you do. Speaking to Bob Klapisch and Paul Solotaroff for their book Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees, you even said, “I’m not going to use the newspapers to accomplish something.”

And why should you? Hell, the owners have already leaked proposals for restarting the season to the press. This despite the fact that players are asked to assume serious risks to their health for considerably less money than they would otherwise make. Moreover, players already agreed to basically give up their game checks for any games lost.

Now, the owners want them to give up more because there won’t be fans in stadiums this year? Sorry, Hal, but the damage is already done in terms of fighting a battle in the press.

Thus, it’s time for Hal Steinbrenner to step up like he never has before.

Why speaking matters

For context, MLB’s owners have made another proposal to the union this week. Here it is in layman’s terms, courtesy of a Twitter thread from ESPN’s Jeff Passan:

Needless to say, the players aren’t thrilled. And why should they be? An agreement was made on prorated salaries, and now the owners are using language in that deal to renegotiate because fans won’t be in attendance. In a nutshell, it seems a bunch of billionaires are, in fact, crying poverty.

And if there’s anyone who knows this is a meaningless argument, it’s Hal Steinbrenner. Forbes released its annual list of MLB team valuations and the Yankees were listed at a cool $5 billion. That was up 9% from last year. On top of that, only two teams lost value—the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins.

Digging even deeper, only five teams saw no net gain or loss in total value. That leaves 23 teams who saw an increase in value last year. Mr. Steinbrenner, surely you see these numbers the same as everyone else. Moreover, per Maury Brown of Forbes, MLB made a record $10.7 billion in revenue last year. If teams are indeed worried about the inevitable drop in 2020, surely loans can be taken out or other forms of financing secured by, you know, owners worth more than most earn in a lifetime.

Something doesn’t add up here, and it doesn’t take being Sherlock Holmes to see what. If you, Hal Steinbrenner, point that out, perhaps everyone can finally get back to business.

What to say

Mind you, this isn’t one writer asking Hal Steinbrenner to turn into his father overnight, yell at his fellow owners for being babies, and force their hands into caving to all player demands. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what would be ideal. This shouldn’t be The Apprentice: MLB Edition.

Rather, Mr. Steinbrenner, all that’s necessary is for you to be the voice of reason. Despite being in a privileged position, you’ll be losing money too in 2020. The pandemic affected everyone across the board, including billionaires.

Speak of how no one wins if there’s no baseball. Say how some of the owners, namely John Fisher of the Oakland A’s, have lost their way. Unite everyone under the common love of our national pastime so that baseball can be played this season under everyone’s terms. This isn’t about money anymore. This is about coming together and just playing the game under the initial prorated salaries agreement. Any potential financial losses could be at least partially offset by additional TV revenues.

More importantly, Mr. Steinbrenner, with a labor dispute looming next year, can you and your owners really afford for this to drag out any longer?

Sincerely,
A concerned fan.

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