Cup of Coffee: January 6, 2022
Allegedly "toxic" labor talks, Schrödinger’s retirement, soccer moguls, Dog Fister, the deaths of the British and American Empires, and “Whoomp There it Is."
Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday! Just visiting today? That’s cool, but may I steer you toward the gift shop on your way into the exhibit?
Substack’s hottest newsletter is Cup of Coffee. It has EVERYTHING. Labor talk takes. Schrödinger’s retirement. Soccer moguls. Dog Fister. A final word on the death of democracy but a whole bunch of words about the deaths of both the British and the American Empires. “Whoomp there it is.”
That’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to covering it, shall we?
The Daily Briefing
The state of the allegedly “toxic” labor talks
ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote an update on the state of affairs between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA yesterday. According to him and his anonymous sources the relationship between the league and the union is “toxic” and it’s all a big shame because, according to him, everyone knows there’s a path to a deal but no one is talking it.
I don’t mean to pick on Passan or his piece here, but this kind of report, which you often see during labor battles, sort of baffles me.
It’s well known that there has been zero substantive communication between MLB and the MLBPA since the last meeting in Dallas back on December 1. It’s also well known that the last thing that happened at that meeting was that the MLBPA made a series of proposals to Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball did not respond except to identify a series of topics that are pretty important to the players about which they will explicitly NOT negotiate. The MLB suits in attendance made no counterproposal, got in their Escalades, high-tailed it DFW, went home, and since then there has been radio silence.
Question: can things be “toxic” if no one is talking? And if there is something “toxic” in all of this, does that toxicity not reside with those who (a) have the ball in their court but who won’t do anything with it; and (b) have said they won’t even DISCUSS a bunch of important matters? If I make you an offer and you tell me that you won’t even consider half of it and then stare at me in silence for a month and a half, is the situation between us “toxic” or are you just being an asshole?
Also, I find it amusing that Passan, and a lot of other people who write about sports labor, say things like “everyone knows there’s an easy path to a deal here, but no one is taking it.” Is there an easy path? If so, what is it? Because even the people who do this shit for a living do not believe any of this stuff is easy at all. When I read things like “everyone knows how to solve this but won’t” I do not take it seriously for a moment. I take it as an effort to sound wise and knowing and, later, if things continue on without a deal, I take it all as setup for the inevitable “a pox on both of their houses” column in which the writer condemns the league and the union equally for the loss of games. It’s a take that gives a writer some heat with fans who like to complain about “millionaires fighting billionaires” and who like to see baseball erroneously cast as uniquely dysfunctional — quick: tell me which sports have lost games due to labor strife in the past 25 years and which one hasn’t — but it’s a lazy, willful misreading of the actual situation on the ground.
My view of this from the outside is this:
There are some tough issues on the table, with the MLBPA asking for some fairly substantial changes in an effort to reverse some financial trends which have not been heading in the right direction for their members over the past few years; and
MLB does not wanting to change a damn thing because they view any changes as taking money out of owners’ pockets and that’s not a thing that modern ownership or our current commissioner can abide.
That’s not “toxic.” That’s the stuff of a negotiation. A tough one to be sure, but something you sit down at a table and talk about. At the moment, one side wants to have that negotiation and the other side doesn’t. And I don’t believe that whether there’s a “path to a deal” there is a thing that one can even begin to determine until there are, you know, negotiations.
Beyond all of that, I’m sort of marveling at Major League Baseball’s strategy in all of this. My understanding is that the purpose of the lockout when it came was to prevent the players from being able to strike or threaten to strike as spring training grew near, thereby taking away their leverage, adding to MLB’s, and thus allowing labor talks to happen in a way that favors the owners to some degree. Now, however, because MLB apparently refuses to talk, and because time marches on, we’re eventually going to get to a point where spring training and, potentially, the season is threatened. Except, rather than it be something that can be blamed on the players, either because they’re picketing rabble-rousers or intransigent negotiators, it’s going to be 100% Rob Manfred and the owners’ doing.
How are they gonna spin that? How is the fact that they’ve sat on an offer for months, refused to even respond to it, and maintained that they will accept no changes whatsoever while continuing to lock the players out anything other than them willfully torpedoing the season? How have they not painted themselves into a corner? What is their end game here? Is it to break the players? Because if so, they need to look back to 2020 and see how poorly that went for them. Is it to cost the players money? Because if so, they need to look at the financials and realize that, thanks to an economic system that has been tilted so far in favor of the league in recent years, the clubs will lose WAY more money than the players will if games get banged. And, because of the nature of MLB team ownership these days, there are way more debt servicing payments to be paid on the ownership side of the ledger. The union has a strike fund. Is there a fund to cover the massive debts so many of Major League Baseball’s owners have incurred to purchase their teams and develop real estate empires around their ballparks?
I have no idea. But it’s a state of affairs for which the kind of both-sidesism you tend to see when it comes to this stuff is distinctly inappropriate.
David Blitzer buys a soccer team
A group led by David Blitzer, the Cleveland Guardians’ newest minority and likely one-day majority owner, has reached an agreement to purchase MLS club Real Salt Lake. Blitzer is already the co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils too, so he has quite the budding sports empire on his hands.
Rich dudes like Blitzer are fighting tooth-and-nail to get into sports team ownership these days, and they’re fighting just as hard to grow their ownership portfolios once they’ve gained a foothold. This is not something that anyone would do if they were not making money hand over first via sports team ownership and if they did not believe that that state of affairs was going to continue for some time.
That’s something worth remembering if and when baseball owners or the men they hire to represent their interests claim that they’re in a tough spot and just can’t make concessions to the athletes who make it all happen.
Adam Eaton considering retirement
Per Ken Rosenthal, journeyman outfielder Adam Eaton is considering retirement.
Gee, I guess the news that Drake LaRoche got married has hit him hard.
Actually, no, he’s considering it because he is a candidate to join the Los Angeles Angels’ coaching staff. Rosenthal says that Eaton and the club had conversations about that before the lockout started.
The problem, though, is that since Eaton is still nominally an active player the club won’t talk to him. Which sounds more like an MLB/clubs problem than an Eaton problem. I mean, they’re the ones who have imposed this lockout and who are making all kinds of silly distinctions about what is and what is not allowed such as photos on MLB.com and the like. There is nothing that I can think of which would legally or practically prohibit them from reaching out to Eaton given that he’s not on anyone’s 40-man roster — others in Eaton’s position have signed minor league deals with clubs — but hey, MLB is gonna MLB.
My guess is that Eaton, who hit a woeful .201/.282./.327 (68 OPS+) in part time play for the White Sox and the Angels last year, will end up on that Angels staff before it’s all said in done. If he does, he will join Bill Haselman, Phil Nevin, and Benji Gil, each of whom have been named as coaches under Joe Maddon’s this week.
In other news, the Rosenthal report made a note that Eaton has two sons: one named Brayden and one named Maverick. If you had told me that a major leaguer had boys with those names but didn’t tell me who it was, Eaton would’ve been my first guess.
The official baseball card of Cup of Coffee
Yesterday, in the bit about Topps, I shared a 2014 Topps Heritage card of Doug Fister. Thankfully, subscriber Damon Kimble improved that card for us in a way that is in keeping with the ethos of this newsletter:
Long may you run, Dog Fister. Long may you run.
One last thing on the death of democracy
I know I’ve been depressing the living hell out of a lot of you with my “American democracy is doomed” stuff of late so I’ll make this the last bit on that for while.
A lot of the responses I’ve gotten from people when I bring up the push that is on in this country to deny the results of the 2020 election, gerrymander in favor of a minority party, suppress the vote, and potentially negate the results of future elections have centered on the idea that, actually, most people don’t support that stuff. That, even if it’s the case that 60% of Republicans think Trump won last year, that that only represents the majority of what is actually a very small minority of people based on how they’ve identified themselves to pollsters. That Republican efforts to stack the deck going forward are overwhelmingly unpopular.
While I get where these folks are coming from, is it rude of me to point out that such an observation kind of makes my point for me? That the efforts being undertaken by a small few to impose their will over what most people want is, actually, the very thing that concerns me? Is it even more rude of me to make that point on the first anniversary of a violent attempt to overturn an election by a very small number of people that, if only a couple little things went differently, may very well have worked and, effectively, put an end to American democracy as we know it a year ago?
Anyway, good talk! I’ll now lay off that stuff for a bit. Well, unless you count the stuff about the end of The American Empire a couple items below, but I really do think that’s a different topic.
Getting a mortgage without a W2
Anne Trubek, the woman who owns Belt, the company publishing my book, also publishes a newsletter called Notes from a Small Press that, not surprisingly, deals with small press publishing. It also deals an awful lot about being a person who works for themselves in small press publishing and all of the glamours things that entails.
In the latest edition of Notes from a Small Press, Anne talks about something that, per my thing last week about picking where I may want to move one day, is probably gonna be a big deal for me too: trying to get a mortgage without a W2:
I started filing taxes as a wholly independent contractor about 5 years ago. At the time, I owned a home; it was my second. I never made a late mortgage payment on either. I had excellent credit. Both mortgages were with the same small, locally-owned savings & loan. When I decided to sell that house, I applied to that same bank for pre-approval for a new mortgage.
They turned me down.
I was shocked. 100% unprepared. It wasn’t my credit score. It wasn’t how much I made.
It was my lack of a W-2. Banks assume anyone who applies for a mortgage has a W2. If you don’t, you can show them two to three years of prior tax returns—which is already placing you in a “less desirable” bucket . . .
Anne goes on to talk about how just showing tax returns can also work against you if, like her, you own a business and do a lot of prudent things which may reduce your personal income even if it helps you overall by helping to strengthen your business. The upshot: despite an excellent credit score and the ability to demonstrate more than sufficient income to cover a mortgage and her other expenses, Anne is renting. She doesn’t hate it, but it’s a kick in the butt to have to do that because the mortgage system heavily favors W2 earners.
I’ve never had reason to think about that before yesterday. I bought my first home in 1999 when I was a W2 employee, sold it and bought my second home in 2005 as a W2 employee, refinanced it as a divorced person in 2012 as a W2 employee, and purchased my current home in 2014 as a W2 employee. I am now, however, not a W2 employee and likely never will be again. It had not occurred to me that if Allison and I move someplace else next year or soon after such a thing will harm my chances at getting a mortgage. It’s particularly unexpected given that, not to put too fine a point on it, I’m actually making more money now than I did when I was last a W2 employee. I would’ve figured that it’d be easier, not harder, to get a mortgage when your income is higher, even if the source of that income is someone else’s business and not your own.
It all seems so perverse, even beyond the matter of the dollars on the bottom line. I mean, the reason I am no longer a W2 employee is because I was an at-will employee and I was fired out of the clear blue sky. Indeed, I was always an at-will employee and I could’ve just as easily been fired the day after I closed on those mortgages in 1999, 2005, 2012, and 2014 as I was on August 3, 2020. The preference for W2 employment, on some level, is because such a thing suggests stability to a lender, but how damn stable can one be when one can be fired for no reason at all at any time at all? Now that I’m my own boss, in contrast, no one can fire me. And hell, even if I published a screed tomorrow that was so abhorrent and unpopular that it caused the entire world to treat me like a pariah, my income would not turn off like a faucet given that subscriptions have lead times and stuff. And given that, to be honest, there is always a market for an abhorrent and unpopular person who, if there was any justice in the world, should be a pariah. That’s just how the U.S. rolls in 2022.
I’m not gonna lose much sleep over this, mind you. If The Man makes it so that I have to rent, I’ll rent, and for a number of reasons that may be something that’s preferable to me, either because I think the housing market is too overheated when it comes time for me to move or because there are other advantages to it like, say, how it makes becoming an aimless drifter all the easier. But it is a hell of a thing.
Cygnus X-1, Book I: The Pinball Machine
I had a bunch of people send me this thinking that, given my track record of bitching about Rush, it’d piss me off:
Nah. Those machines kind of own. They put me in mind of skeezy bowling alley arcades in Flint, Michigan circa 1980. There’s nothing that fits that aesthetic more than these bad boys. I can smell the lane oil, the bowling shoe disinfectant, the cigarette smoke, and the deep fryer at Southland Lanes already.
Wait, that’s not true. A Grand Funk Railroad pinball machine would be directly on target here. But Rush comes pretty damn close.
Back to the Future
I was reminded the other day that, if “Back to the Future” were made today, Marty would go to 1992. My daughter is a high school senior and my son is a high school junior. While I graduated high school in 1991, their mother graduated in 1992, so this is probably as close as it’s gonna get to the movie setup. So yeah, this is making me feel fairly old at the moment.
The thing that reminded me of that was a prompt asking which ahead-of-its-time, game-changing song would my kids perform at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance that would blow everyone’s mind a la Marty playing “Johnny B. Goode.” Assuming such a dance would take place at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, West Virginia in 1992. Which, hey, it might’ve.
This — which came out the following year — is the best I got:
I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet.
Livin’ on a Thin Line
This starts out about the UK but ends up being about America, so if you’re the sort who gets sick of me going on about British stuff, bear with me for a couple of paragraphs.
A friend sent me an interesting piece by the writer Tom McTague in The Atlantic entitled “Will Britain Survive.” It talks about how, in the last 20 years, the UK has basically come undone in any number of ways. Undone due to poor governance, misguided participation in multiple American-led wars, a poor handling of the pandemic and, above all else, Brexit. And by “undone” the author does not mean “everyone’s bummed out.” He actually wonders whether the United Kingdom is suffering from a “spiritual crisis” and, for that matter, whether it’s still a nation. Whether the diverging interests and beliefs of the English, the Scottish, the Irish and the Welsh mean the inevitable death of Britain itself.
There’s a bunch of interesting stuff in that piece, especially if you’re a hopeless anglophile like me. There’s also a lot of what seems like horseshit in that article, as it seems to beg the question of the definition and the legitimacy of the UK in various places. I’ll grant that maybe I’m missing some nuance here given that I’m an outsider, but at many points in the article I thought to myself, “no, that thing you’re worried about may actually be for the best; can you please explain, exactly, why such a thing would be bad?”
The article’s most interesting point, though, comes at the end, when the author imagines a possible future for Britain as a smaller nation on the world’s stage:
Some simply no longer believe it’s worth saving—that like Butlin’s, it is somehow shameful or anachronistic. They actively prefer the thought of being a less powerful but more settled European country: a greater Holland rather than a mini United States.
This instinct is not unreasonable. The Dutch are no longer a world power, but they are rich and stable nonetheless. Anyone who has traveled to the Republic of Ireland in recent years (as I did at the end of my trip) must also acknowledge the uncomfortable challenge it presents to British unionism.
In some ways this is a very old story for Britain.1 It was once an empire, after all. Indeed, much of the past century of British history has been a story of it contending with empire’s end or, quite often, failing to contend with it by trying to pump itself up and believe it still mattered in ways it may not anymore. Hell, this goes back more than a century, really. For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Rudyard Kipling composed the poem “Recessional,” which strongly alluded to national decline and served as a reminder — largely unheeded, at least by those in power — of the transient nature of empire itself.
The First and Second World Wars ended with Britain, technically speaking, victorious, but utterly gutted. Despite moments of glory — The Battle of Britain, El Alamein — its self-conception as a preeminent or, at the very least, an independent military power was proven erroneous. It’s self-conception as an imperial power was outright obliterated as it, reluctantly, came to accept that it must devolve its colonial possessions. Its self-conception as an economic power was severely undercut by postwar deprivation and near national bankruptcy, avoided only due to intervention on the part of the United States.
Much of what has happened in Britain since the end of World War II has been a reaction to all of that, and it has usually been a pretty negative reaction. Often it has attempted to behave like its old self — an attempted assertion of power in the Suez, the self-help exercise that was the Falklands War, its bumbling in with the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq — as a means of overcompensating for the loss of prestige it once had. Never has it seemed to contemplate for itself a smaller but more stable role on the world stage like the author suggests the Netherlands has. I honestly don’t know if Britain is dying in the ways this piece in The Atlantic believes it is, but if it is, it’s not dying the most graceful of deaths.
All of which makes me think about America’s place on the world stage and how its role is changing and may change even more in the future. And how, it too, is likely to refuse to go gentle into that goodnight.
In many ways America is where the United Kingdom was at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. We don’t call ourselves an “empire,” but we are, with our hegemony over much of the rest of the world standing in for the actual possession of foreign lands. We’ve been technically victorious in most things we’ve done, we’re culturally influential, and we are treated as the most powerful force on Earth, At the same time, however, we’re similarly gutted in a great many ways that truly matter. A wide gulf exists between our stated ideals and our actions. Our self-conception as a force of good in the world and our self-conception of a land of freedom and opportunity at home is relentlessly undercut by our actions in the world and our utter disregard for our own people. Because of that — and because of both strategic choices we have made as a country and the rise of rivals to fill the void — the American hegemony is waning.
That’s not necessarily a problem for a few reasons. Mostly because being a global hegemon is not a great thing. It kind of makes you a dick and you shouldn’t want to be a dick. Also, the business of ceasing to be a global hegemon can be a good thing. It need not happen due to a costly defeat or a pyrrhic victory in a disastrous war. You can just, you know, stop doing it via trying to find a way to work multi-laterally and become a citizen of the world as opposed to being the world’s top cop or top bully, depending on your point of view.
What concerns me more than our waning influence in the world, though, is the way in which we are crumbling from within. Which is how most empires truly crumble.
The concepts of democracy, humanity, and freedom form the corpus of our secular religion, but our ruling class is truly a class apart from the common people. Many of those leaders are oblivious of and immune to the struggles we face. Many others are outright apostates to the principles of democracy, humanity, and freedom in the first place and are the actual authors of those struggles. Either way, the multiple American crises of the past two decades have laid bare just how unwilling and how incapable we are of rising to the challenges the idealized version of America — and even some former versions of America — would’ve been able to handle in the normal course, be it our disastrous and often malicious military adventurism abroad, the rise of illiberalism and fascism at home, the pandemic or any number of other things.
Some of these crises have passed and those that are still ongoing will end because all crises end. But, I feel, it’s already too late for us to plausibly claim, later, that we actively vanquished them as opposed to us just waiting them out and staggering on. A later, objective view of how the past couple of decades have played out will necessarily be one of failure analysis. We still seem strong but, later, no small number of incidents we’ve lived through in the past several years of American history will be seen in the way a colonial uprising in New Zealand or South Africa or a dockworker’s strike in the Port of London came to be seen by British historians who looked back at the end of their imperial era: as unmistakable milestones of a national decline.
To be sure, it’s a decline that may not fully play out in my lifetime or even the lifetime of my children. America’s military power and its economic unavoidability is considerable and makes it a country everyone will have to deal with for a long time. But, hell, the same could’ve been said about Rome in the late fourth century or Britain a hundred years ago and those were clearly already dead empires walking. I’ve long worried about this decline. I’ve spent an unfathomable about of mental energy over the years thinking about what we can and should do in order to stem it and rally ourselves back to being the country we’ve long imagined ourselves to be. I’ve come to believe, however, that the decline is, by now, irreversible. I tend to think that now it’s all about managing the collapse.
It’s not a collapse that need be disastrous. When some empires fall its via definitive and righteous defeat, usually militarily. Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, for example. In those cases their post-imperial order was largely proscribed for them by others. They thus had a road map of how to remake themselves into something positive, had considerable support to help them do it, and have thus far managed to do so. Others, like The Netherlands, have done as the author of The Atlantic piece noted and contented themselves to play a smaller role on the world’s stage and make sure it kept its house in order. When the UK isn’t fecklessly trying to reassert its old self or, as with Brexit, turning its back on the world, it can and often does serve as a vital international hub and a beacon of culture and history in the world. If one squints one can imagine a less-hegemonic America that has taken stock of its strengths and its weaknesses and has decided to lean hard into its strengths by using its cultural and economic might as a source for good.
But I don’t think that’ll actually be the case with America, though. Given what I’ve witnessed over the past 20 years, I am fairly certain that our decline will be more like that which has characterized Britain. A collapse occasioned by a crumbling and rotting from within that allows most of us to deny and then put off the sort of national reckoning required to find our new place in the world and the new conception of ourselves.
It’ll be a hot mess. It’ll be so utterly American.
Have a great day, everyone.
A good bit from this point on — the stuff about America’s collapse — is taken from a thing I wrote in my Pandemic Diary last year. I had forgotten about it until I was midway through this and thought “hey, I’ve talked about this before.” I think I said it best then so, yeah, I’m mildly plagiarizing myself. Including the inclusion of the Kinks song at the end.