Bruce Meyer, the besieged deputy director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, emailed a lengthy letter to players outlining his accomplishments and challenging the “revisionist history going around in a coordinated, multi-pronged, campaign” he believes critics are using to try to get him fired.

On Monday, a group of players asked MLBPA executive director Tony Clark to remove Meyer and replace him with a former lawyer at the union, Harry Marino, because they are frustrated with the overall direction of the organization. Meyer, 62, and a veteran of the sports labor scene, defended his record during collective bargaining, and accused both the commissioner’s office and unnamed agents of undermining the union to the gain of the sport’s owners.

“I believe the rivalry between agents and the demonization of players based on who their agent is presents the single biggest challenge to the union’s ability to fulfill its longstanding history of unity and accomplishment,” reads the letter, which was dated Thursday and obtained by The Athletic. “This is something the league will continue to attempt to exploit so long as it exists, if players allow it.”

Marino, 33, carries the trust of many of the sport’s minor leaguers after he led their grassroots unionizing effort, which Clark, Meyer and the MLBPA eventually helped over the hump. Minor leaguers now have nearly an equal say in the governance of the MLBPA, holding 34 votes of 72 on the union’s executive board.

All week, the future of the labor organization has been uncertain. Meyer reinforced that he is opposed to a salary cap. Whether a push for a major change to the sport’s economic system lurks behind the attempted regime change is a looming question among players and agents. It likely would be the quickest way for players to redirect more money to younger players, but at a potentially significant cost to overall player earnings over time.

“Anyone peddling ‘easy fixes’ should be treated with suspicion,” Meyer wrote, listing some of the gains that players made with the deal they reached during the 2021-22 lockout.

The contract with the league he and the major leaguers agreed to then was not under fire publicly in a steady or prominent way until this month. Meyer is well known to have believed players could have made more gains had they fought longer. Most players and their agents didn’t want to do so, including some of the same that are now complaining the union heads came up short. Although agents are not formally a part of the union, many have a large influence on their clients.

“Some players emerged from bargaining disappointed that we did not accomplish more and in particular that we did not miss games to see if more games could be made,” Meyer wrote. “To be clear, I sympathized and still do with these players and this position. But the reality is that players held firm throughout bargaining, and as MLB’s proposal got better and better, the vast majority of players believed that the deal on the table was a good deal.”

Meyer positioned the commissioner’s office as at least partly responsible for a perception that he and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark are deferential to the interests of prominent agent Scott Boras. That narrative has never been publicly substantiated with any documentation or other substantive proof, but Boras has more clients than any other agent, and his rivals loathe him, as does the league office.


Agent Scott Boras at a game in 2022. (G Fiume / Getty Images)

“From the moment I was hired, if not before, MLB began demonizing me both privately and publicly,” Meyer wrote. “Among other things, one of their strategies was to spread the lie that I had been somehow hired at the behest of Scott Boras and was therefore beholden to him. This lie, which has taken many forms over the years, was a calculated (and time- honored) management strategy. To state unequivocally: At the time I was hired I had never in my life met or even spoken to Scott Boras.”

Marino and Meyer worked together to bargain minor leaguers’ first collective bargaining agreement, which was agreed to in March 2023. Marino then left in the summer, in part, because of a fractured relationship with Clark and Meyer.

Marino and his backers are attacking not only the bargaining record under Clark and Meyer, but the communication and overall function of the MLBPA.

The prior two offseasons produced virtually no public criticisms of the union’s bargaining ability. This winter, however, overall club spending on free agents dropped to $2.8 billion so far, per Spotrac. But $1 billion of that is wrapped up in one team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last offseason, clubs committed $3.9 billion. The dip angers players, and their agents — who might otherwise take blame themselves.

It seems impossible at this point to expect Clark and Marino could again coexist inside the same administration. The questions are whether Clark removes Meyer in favor of someone other than Marino — either by dismissing Meyer, or by re-assigning him within the organization — and whether Clark himself winds up being forced out. Player discussions, as well as agent discussions, are ongoing. Major- and minor-league players could vote on Meyer and/or Clark’s future in coming days.

Marino could not immediately be reached for comment overnight.


Meyer’s full letter to the players:

Guys,

I know people are debating my fate with some arguing that I should no longer have my job. I wanted to give some of my perspective and correct the record on a few things because there is a lot of misinformation and revisionist history going around in a coordinated, multi-pronged, campaign and I feel some are trying to rush this through without my having an opportunity to defend myself.  I’m not going to respond to every single thing that’s being put out there. I strongly encourage any players that have questions to talk to me directly. My number is (redacted).

In the summer of 2018, I received a completely unsolicited approach about coming to work for the MLBPA to focus on collective bargaining. It was not a job I sought out. I was contacted because of my unique qualifications and reputation in the sports law industry. At that time I had been a partner at one of the leading law firms in the country, where I spent 30 years representing player unions and players in all four professional sports, including in litigation, arbitrations and collective bargaining, plus two years as Senior Director of Collective Bargaining, Policy and Legal at the NHLPA, where I had been hired by one of my clients, former MLBPA Executive Director Don Fehr. In all those years, I was a staunch, devoted advocate for player rights and recognized repeatedly in various publications as one of the leading player-side sports lawyers in the country.

At the time I was first contacted by the MLBPA, I understood that the MLBPA was facing challenges in a system where economic trends had gone too far in the owners’ direction. From the moment I was hired, if not before, MLB began demonizing me both privately and publicly. Among other things, one of their strategies was to spread the lie that I had been somehow hired at the behest of Scott Boras and was therefore beholden to him. This lie, which has taken many forms over the years, was a calculated (and time-honored) management strategy. To state unequivocally: At the time I was hired I had never in my life met or even spoken to Scott Boras. My hiring was endorsed by the then Executive Subcommittee which consisted of, I believe, 7 out of 8 non-Boras guys.  I hesitate to even dignify all the things I have heard over the years about the nature of my supposed relationship with Mr. Boras except to say that he happens to be an agent who represents many of our union members, and your team-mates. If he, or any other agent, called me, I always answered. The league has successfully weaponized these lies to try and create divisions and to attempt to neuter the voices of the some of the biggest voices in the game and in this union. I believe the rivalry between agents and the demonization of players based on who their agent is presents the single biggest challenge to the union’s ability to fulfill its longstanding history of unity and accomplishment. This is something the league will continue to attempt to exploit so long as it exists, if players allow it.

After being hired, in September of 2018, I undertook the job of familiarizing myself with past bargaining and meeting with players and agents in attempting to begin the daunting task of “turning the ship around.”  I found that the Union was being actively undermined from within and without by certain agents and their friends who had long harbored resentments going well back before my time, stemming from the succession after former Executive Director Michael Weiner’s untimely death.

In 2020, the COVID pandemic hit out of nowhere.  We as a union, and as an industry, were confronted with enormous, unprecedented challenges. Against that backdrop, we negotiated a deal with MLB in March, 2020 which among other things preserved service time even in a fully cancelled season.  Subsequently, a dispute broke out with MLB over MLB’s demands for players—who were already accepting pro-rated pay—to further give back to the owners hundreds of millions in player salaries. The vast majority of players, from the outset, vehemently opposed this demand. At the end of the day the players remained firm against agreeing to the league’s pay cut proposals. The full Executive Board, which was involved from the beginning, ultimately voted overwhelmingly to reject the league’s final proposal. This was widely credited with reinvigorating the union and setting an important precedent for future bargaining. Afterwards, Rob Manfred was publicly quoted as saying: “The reality is, we weren’t going to play more than 60 games no matter how the negotiations with the players went or any other factor. Sixty games is the outside of the envelope given the realities of the [coronavirus].” To be clear, none of MLB’s offers were willing to guarantee any amount of games.

Coming out of the pandemic, MLB attempted to delay the 2021 season. Union leadership, including me, believed this was unwarranted and was motivated primarily by economic reasons. We believed it was important that players get full pay and service after the pandemic year of 2020. Ultimately, despite massive MLB pressure-including directly to players, agents and through the media- the season went off on time and we were proved correct.

In 2022 bargaining we had ambitious goals-goals that were set and approved by our Executive Board. Two of our goals were to increase pay for younger players earlier in their careers, and to incentivize teams to compete every year. The league refused to even consider changes to the system we proposed to get players to salary arbitration and free agency earlier, to incentivize clubs to compete and to change their outdated revenue sharing system. And they had their own far more radical proposals. This resulted in the longest owner lockout in league history.

While we did not fully accomplish some of our objectives, and our system has many issues, it is a fact that we made overall significant net gains for players at all levels, without players missing a day of salary or service.

Against fierce MLB opposition, the gains we made included, among other things:

• A new $50 million pre-arb bonus pool out of central league funds.

• Historic percentage increases in minimum salaries (up 30% since 2021).

• Provisions to address service time manipulation for new players.

• Historic percentage increases in the luxury tax thresholds.

• A limit on the number of times a player can be optioned in a season.

• A first-ever draft lottery to help reduce tanking.

• Incentives for small markets to grow revenue and compete.

• Improved benefits.

Equally important, we fought off demands by the league that would have utterly destroyed Free Agency—including dramatically lowering (or keeping flat) the luxury tax thresholds and doubling and tripling the penalties at all levels. We fought off demands by the league to eliminate salary arbitration, and possibly extend the control period for many players. We fought off attempts by the league to reduce benefits.

The vast majority of players around the league favored and approved this deal. Over two thirds of our 38-member Executive Board—who were actively involved in negotiations, and included reps from all teams—voted to approve the agreement. Some players emerged from bargaining disappointed that we did not accomplish more and in particular that we did not miss games to see if more games could be made. To be clear, I sympathized and still do with these players and this position. But the reality is that players held firm throughout bargaining, and as MLB’s proposal got better and better, the vast majority of players believed that the deal on the table was a good deal.

One player (who voted against the deal) was publicly quoted as saying: “Bruce was an absolute bulldog in these negotiations and he was everything we needed from a head negotiator.”

In the wake of the deal, we heard general approval from players and agents across the game. On the other hand, Owners and the Commissioner started complaining immediately about the deal. Indeed, the 2022 CBA, while far from perfect, has worked out well for players thus far.

• Opening Day CBT payrolls in 2024 will be up 30% or more since 2021, amounting to roughly $1.5 billion in increased payrolls, including an expected increase in 2024 payrolls compared to 2023.​ Median Salary in 2023 was up by 38% (without including pre-arb pool) compared to 2021.

• Players early in their career benefited more than anybody from the combination of minimum salaries and the Pre-Arb pool. In 2023, the average pre-arbitration salary was up 48% compared to 2021.​  Service time manipulation is way down. (Four Times the number of top prospects are receiving a full year of service time compared to the prior CBA).​

• Record numbers of teams spent over the luxury tax, in record amounts—hundreds of millions of dollars. Only one club is projected to have an Opening Day CBT payroll under $120 million in 2024, compared to 12 clubs in 2021. There have been 27 multi-year deals worth at least $20 million this offseason after just 25 total after 2019 and 2020 combined. Deals with an AAV of at least $10 Million (and the number of years guaranteed) have doubled in the first three years of this CBA compared to the last three years of the prior CBA. ​

• The first two free agency markets under the new deal were robust, with salaries, length of contracts and guaranteed money all heading significantly upward, reversing previous trends. The current free agent market, which has involved some traditional big market teams taking a step back, and many teams expressing concerns about their local television revenues, has involved some good contracts, some disappointing contracts, and some players who at this time remain unsigned. As we have been telling players, we intended to gather data from agents to assess the extent to which the current market differed from the previous two markets and evaluate the reasons and potential solutions.

A lot of guys are rightly upset about the player who recently got cut after winning a salary arbitration. This sucks, no question. But guys should be aware: 1) these arb awards have never been guaranteed. It’s not something new in the last CBA. It has happened in the past, though very infrequently; 2) In the last negotiation we proposed having settlements and all awards guaranteed. We were successful in getting the settlements guaranteed, which was a huge accomplishment. The league refused to agree to guarantee the awards. Nevertheless, this can be a priority once again in future bargaining.

​In 2022 I was asked by Tony to take on the role of lead negotiator for the first collective bargaining agreement for our newly unionized minor leaguers. The agreement we negotiated, was ultimately approved by well over 99% of players voting (3249-7). It led to a doubling and tripling of salaries at all levels plus improvements in housing, transportation, food, the introduction of due process.

Recently, we have been preparing for the next round of collective bargaining for our agreement which expires in December of 2026.  This will certainly involve another MLB demand for a salary cap or similar restrictions. As all know, I have advocated vociferously against such a system in baseball as I believe it is bad for players at all levels. Players should be deeply suspicious of anyone who is trying to sell that idea. To those who believe a salary floor is the solution, I’ll remind you that any salary floor proposal comes with a salary cap or the functional equivalent. The league confirmed this over the bargaining table.  In addition, anyone selling to players the notion that they have the unique ability to get major gains from MLB without the prospect of a work stoppage is selling a fantasy, as borne out by the entire nearly 60 year history of this union.

We have committed, as we always do, to incorporating input from players to determine bargaining priorities. But we know our priorities continue to include getting players paid earlier in their careers, getting access to a player’s market value earlier, promoting and incentivizing competition and ensuring a free and robust free agent market for players at all levels-from superstars to those fighting for a roster spot or guaranteed contract. Determining the specifics has just begun. Anyone peddling “easy fixes” should be treated with suspicion.

Minor league players, as I have said to those of you who were involved in bargaining, and as I have said to Major Leaguers at our Board Meeting and recent clubhouse meetings, having the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of your working conditions has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  Our agreement contained massive improvements, but there is much more work to be done.

I have been committed to advancing and protecting the rights of professional athletes for my entire nearly 38-year career. Working for the MLBPA has been the pinnacle of my career and my respect for the players, and my colleagues, is boundless. Players in clubhouses have heard me say that unity is what has historically made this union the strongest union in sports. At the end of the day, the only people who benefit from disunity is the owners.

Thanks.
Bruce

(Top photo of Tony Clark, left, and Bruce Meyer: Greg Lovett / USA Today)



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