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Volume 25 No. 177

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Some were critical of Clark for last year's slow free agency period, but he had the support of players
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The MLBPA has "voted to extend" Exec Dir Tony Clark's tenure, "keeping him in his position" through at least '22, according to Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The move ensures that Clark, who took over in '13 following the death of Michael Weiner, will "remain atop the union for the negotiation" of the next CBA with MLB. Baseball’s labor relations "sank to their lowest point in a quarter-century this past winter, which featured the slowest free-agent market in history," and Clark faced criticism from fans and analysts as the "freeze-out dragged into March." But by extending Clark, the players have "made it clear that they aren’t among those detractors, nor do they blame him for the plodding pace of last winter’s market." Free agent P Andrew Miller said that if anything, player engagement in union matters has "soared over the past 12 months, resulting in the largest turnout at this week’s board meeting in many years" (WSJ.com, 11/28).

Manfred said MLB should have been more prompt in requesting the return of its Hyde-Smith donation
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MLB will add extra layers of oversight to the league’s political donations in the wake of the controversial contribution to the reelection campaign for U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), league Commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday. MLB donated $5,000 to Hyde-Smith days after she said she would attend a public hanging, and ultimately the league asked for its money back. “We did agree to make the donation, at the point in time the individual agreed to do it he was not aware of the comments,” Manfred said, referring to the league’s lobbyist who made the decision. “Whether he should have, or shouldn’t have been, he wasn’t as a factual matter, and that’s not a good thing from our perspective. Even more troubling is, we should have been more prompt in terms of requesting the return of the donation. Already this week we put in place new procedures to ensure that we don’t have a problem like this again.” He added, "We were simply not steadfast enough in our oversight of this, and on this one, we came up short." Previously, donation decisions were commonly made unilaterally by MLB’s DC lobbyist. Now, extra oversight will be added, Manfred said (Kaplan & Fisher, THE DAILY).

LET'S GET POLITICAL: Manfred said that the lobbyists for the league’s PAC, a small group of staffers, have "largely operated with autonomy" in DC (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/27). USA TODAY's Gabe Lacques notes MLB's PAC is "designed to protect the league's interests in Washington, be it maintaining its antitrust exemption or generating support for bills such as the 'Save America's Pastime' act, which largely served to enable the league to continue suppressing salaries of minor-league players." Its donations in the '18 cycle "showed a slight lean toward Republican House candidates, but a larger edge to Democratic Senate candidates." A vast majority of these contributions go "virtually unnoticed." However, MLB -- which has "long leaned on the legacy of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball to position itself as a bastion of social justice -- could not ignore the blowback when its money found its way to Hyde-Smith's coffers" (USA TODAY, 11/28). ESPN's Buster Olney noted ballparks have been "built with public funds," and MLB is "very interested in the labor laws." Olney: "They have a lot of issues where they constantly push back." He noted MLB bases some of its donations in Congress around "people who they believe really like baseball and will favor baseball" ("OTL," ESPN, 11/27).

TAKING IT BACK: SI.com's Jack Dickey wrote MLB's excuses bought it "hardly any reprieve." Some wondered whether the league’s PAC could "honestly hand out four-figure checks so easily" (SI.com, 11/27). 

The USL over the weekend took a "historic step by recognizing the union formed by its players," according to sources cited by Jeff Rueter of THE ATHLETIC. The league "acknowledged that a majority of its players authorized the union, via signed cards, to be their exclusive bargaining representative." These first days of the USL Players Association are a "victory for the players that turns around years of fruitless efforts to unionize lower-division soccer players." Now that the league has "become the sole second-division league" in the U.S., its players have "succeeded in gaining representation." It is expected that the league's first CBA "won't be ready" until the '20 season (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/27). SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy noted the Voluntary Recognition Agreement "covers only teams in the USL Championship -- not the new USL League One -- and not players on MLS contracts on loan from MLS clubs." Given the "hurdles -- and costs -- involved in gaining union recognition, what the USLPA has accomplished in achieving its organizing goal and being recognized as a union -- and an independent union at that -- is significant." The USLPA's efforts were "all the more difficult because of the transient nature of the league." Players "come and go each season, creating tremendous instability in a locker room, where trusted and established leadership is necessary to guide a union movement forward" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 11/27).

FOLLOW THE LEADERS: In DC, Steven Goff noted North Carolina FC D Connor Tobin joined Penn FC F Tom Heinemann and former USLer Trey Mitchell in leading the players' council -- an 11-man "executive committee that led the effort to unionize." Tobin said that the movement was a "player-driven" initiative, and that the exec committee was in "regular communication with team representatives." He said, "This is something that a substantial group of players has worked on through the entire year." Tobin added that plans for USL players to unionize "began three years ago and took flight again" before the '18 season. He said that the catalyst was last year's "demise of the lower-tier" NASL, which left many players out of work (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/27).