This week, members of the Electoral College cast the votes that actually and ultimately determined the next American president. As a result of deep dissatisfaction with the putative president-elect, Donald Trump, and allegations of foreign interference in the presidential campaign process, many called for these members to ignore their mandates and vote for Hillary Clinton (or some other candidate, perhaps).
Ultimately, there were seven so-called “faithless electors” on Monday, far fewer than the thirty-eight that would have been necessary to take the presidency from Trump, assuming each such elector took a vote away from Trump. In fact, five of the seven took votes away from Clinton, with only two taking votes from Trump. None of the seven deviations was a straight Trump/Clinton swap either; instead, the faithless electors cast votes for Colin Powell (three), Bernie Sanders (one), John Kasich (one), Ron Paul (one), and Faith Spotted Eagle (one). These seven faithless electors were the first of any since the 2004 election, the most in an election since 1912, and tied for the fifth-most ever. (No faithless elector or electors ever have altered the outcome of an election.)
Last month, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Last week, as more details about the specifics of the agreement became public, we also learned that one team, the Tampa Bay Rays, voted against ratification of the new CBA. Principal owner Stuart Sternberg offered this explanation:
I am thankful for the hard work, leadership, and spirit of compromise that were essential to this agreement coming together. However, twice a decade, the bargaining process provides an opportunity to address the extraordinary and widening competitive gap that exists on-field between higher and lower revenue clubs. I feel that opportunity was missed here.
A beat reporter offered additional information:
While the new deal provided some assistance in the form of small adjustments to the luxury tax, free agent compensation and international signing systems, the Rays wanted more, specifically significant changes to the draft system that would give them more and/or higher picks with an order determined by more than win-loss record.
“Lower revenue clubs face a lot of obstacles, especially when it comes to talent acquisition,” baseball operations president Matt Silverman said last month. “We can’t go out and spend like other clubs so we need to find other avenues to be able to acquire that talent. We’ve looked for additional access on the amateur side, on the international side, and there haven’t been any major changes in the last 10 years, and in fact the revenue disparity between clubs has grown by an immense amount.”
We have long come to accept the notion that there are in sports small-market teams and large-market teams, and that these designations have significant and relatively static relationships with things like player payroll and, in turn, team success. Gaze at this underexplained chart I didn’t make to confirm what you already know to be largely true:
There you have it. Based on what we all have long internalized about how professional sports works, the Rays’ protest makes sense, or, at least, rings true. Small-market teams have to be both very smart and very lucky even to be sort of competitive once every few seasons, and, especially if you play, work, or cheer for one of these teams, like Tampa Bay or, of course, Oakland, that can begin to feel unjust.
Except, whoops. Oakland isn’t a small-market team anymore. And what about Detroit? It probably seems a lot more like Minneapolis and Milwaukee than New York or Los Angeles, but the Tigers entered the 2016 season with the fourth-highest projected payroll, trailing only the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox.
The Rays’ complaint sounds legitimate if the collective, conventional understanding about what it meant to be a small-market team was correct, because it recalls a constitutional equal protection complaint. If teams receive unequal treatment simply as a consequence of some immutable characteristic, something beyond their control (here, ostensibly, their market size), without justification, that probably rightly offends notions of sporting fairness.
If market size isn’t immutable, static, set in stone, though, complaints like the Rays’ start to ring a bit hollow. After all, what if George Steinbrenner was from Cleveland or lived in Tampa instead of the Bronx? (Hold on a second….)
There was a time when teams’ fortunes depended much more on the robustness of the support from their local communities. Now, though, teams are owned by the likes of publicly traded mass media companies and Wall Street investor conglomerates (that’s you, Rays). Today, the ownership class’ ability to invest in their teams has little to do with the size, or even the collective wealth of the local community in which the teams are situated. The Dodgers have, by far, the highest payroll not because the team is in Los Angeles but because it’s owned by a wealthy ownership group that wants to spend truckloads of money on the team, something they could’ve done for a team based in the City of Angels or the Twin Cities. As Henry Druschel recently put it for Beyond the Box Score:
Being a small-market team is not a badge of inferiority that certain teams have to carry throughout life like a scarlet letter; it’s the product of choices, usually made by the owner, to scrimp and save, to not sign free agents, and to not try as hard as possible to win. That’s what makes a small-market team, not where they happen to play.
Just look at Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
If there really is no such thing as a small-market team, then, the Rays’ complaints– the laments of both Sternberg and Silverman included the description of their team as a “lower revenue club”– ring hollow indeed. Civil disobedience, even including jury nullification, can be noble and necessary for the preservation of a republic. My personal jury’s still out on faithless electors, but I believe in transparency and honesty and think it’s clear that protest votes, like the one the Rays cast against the CBA, that serve only the voter’s self interest and do not emanate from a place of transparent honesty are not the sort we should countenance or regard as the basis for institutional reform. To do otherwise would be to build upon a false foundation, something most likely agree we already do more than we ought to.
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