Wetzler is American dream denied

Posted: February 28, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Questions will be asked. Diligence will be done. Facts will be found. All these things, Tony Clark promised yesterday morning.

Give some credit to the MLBPA's new chief. He sounded sincere. Moreso, anyway, than most of the folks who allege themselves to be interested in the welfare of college athlete-students. But interest is one thing, obligation another, and the reality of the situation is that Clark and his constituents owe very little to people like Ben Wetzler, the Oregon State college student who apparently had the temerity to use a financial professional in his contract negotiations with the Phillies, behavior that the club allegedly reported to the NCAA. This set in motion the exact chain of events you'd expect when a representative of the United States' one legal monopoly joins forces with its one legal cartel in an attempt squelch whatever efficiency remains in the country's market for baseball ability.

"Yes, we are concerned," Clark said. "Based on what it is we find out will determine what, if anything, lends itself to further discussion. But yes we are concerned enough to be inquiring about what happened."

That's all the advocacy the Wetzlers of the world should expect. The reality is that that the players association's membership does not include baseball players who are not members of a team's 40-man roster. The reality is that the union conceded what little authority it had over the immediate futures of amateur baseball players in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed before the 2012 season, agreeing to a system that limits signing bonuses and forbids teams from awarding major league contracts to draft picks. The reality is that those concessions were not a case of malpractice, because the MLBPA's mission is to advance the interests of its membership.

Of course, there is another reality underscored by Wetzler vs. All, one in which an individual who wishes to maximize his or her lot in this American life will have a hell of a time doing without the proper power brokers working on their behalf.

Everybody likes to talk about freedom, about liberty, about self-determination, about how our exceptional emphasis on natural rights has protected us from history's traditional tyrants, yet somewhere in Oregon sits a 22-year-old kid who is forbidden from playing baseball for a university that is funded in part by his parents' tax dollars, simply because he ran afoul of the policies of two corporations who combine to generate close to $10 billion per year in revenue while controlling a gargantuan chunk of the spectator-sports marketplace. Baseball is supposed to be the American pastime, so let's have an American conversation about it. We are supposed to believe that the simple genius of this country lies in its unfettered markets - for religion, for speech, for ideas, for goods, for services - and the notion that if I or any of my countrymen possesses an ability for which there is ample demand, I will have access to that demand, thus creating for myself whatever profit the market will bear.

Yet, if I am a college junior who has a demonstrably lucrative penchant for preventing bat-wielding athletes from making solid contact with a baseball, I am forced to hawk said skill in an artificially controlled marketplace where the only two buyers are allowed to collude with each other, Buyer A offering a take-it-or-leave-it signing bonus, Buyer B forbidding me from retaining professional counsel in my negotiations with Buyer A.

See, this is the thing I'm having a difficult time understanding. We might consider ourselves to be a country of Republicans and Democrats, of skeptics who harbor a natural distrust for the creeping tyrants about whom our forefathers warned, the politicians and their ambitions, the bureaucrats and their agencies, but we are still a society that is dominated by institutions, and if you are not a part of one of them, then you are at the mercy of all of them. Individual desire and ability is not enough. In order to play baseball against elite competition, one must also submit. And maybe it is all of our faults. Maybe the players' association spent all of the political capital it felt it possessed during the last round of negotiations, well aware of the proletariat's inability to look beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars paid to our athletes in order to see the billions of dollars reaped by the institutions that control them. Maybe the union would fight a little harder for the unprotected and under-represented if we, the people, would spend less time focused on each other and more time focused on the institutions that exert their control over all of us - subtle and overt - on a daily basis. Maybe Ben Wetzler is what happens when three power institutions act in their own self-interests and none of those interests coincide with yours.

On days like yesterday, you pull into the parking lot of a taxpayer-funded stadium and you see the television truck emblazoned with the logo of a company that could soon control an alarming chunk of the country's access to the Internet, and you see the thick industrial cables that in a few hours will carry the first in a long line of broadcasts for which the company is paying an average of $100 million per year, all of it going to the only legal monopoly in the United States, some of it trickling down to the labor force. You watch the pregame ceremony, the one where the local mayor thanks the Phillies, and the vice-mayor and the city council members run through an archway made of red, white and blue balloons, all of their names booming over the public address system. And then the game begins, and the bats crack and the mitts pop, all the while, 2,500 miles away, a college student sits on the campus of a public research university, waiting for the day when the powers that be will allow him to play.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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