MLB Players’ Association head Tony Clark ripped league officials on Friday after a report alleged that team executives award a WWE-style “championship belt” to the franchise that pays out the lowest salaries during player arbitration.
The belt is awarded during an annual meeting on arbitration between officials from every MLB team, The Athletic reported. An MLB official confirmed the award’s existence, calling it “an information recognition of those club’s salary arbitration departments that did the best.”
“That clubs make sport of trying to suppress salaries in a process designed to produce fair settlements shows a blatant lack of respect for our players, the game, and the arbitration process itself,” said Clark, the MLBPA’s executive director.
Under MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement, players become eligible for arbitration after three years of service time, setting up discussions between team officials and agents regarding how much a player deserves in salary for the next season given their on-field contributions the previous year. After six years of service time, players become eligible for outright free agency.
If the team and player are unable to reach terms, the case proceeds to a hearing, where an arbitrators hears arguments from both sides and determines the salary. According to The Athletic’s report, MLB’s labor relations department advises teams on arbitration best practices and encourages them to proceed to the hearing process even over minor differences in proposed salary.
MLB didn’t return a request for further comment on the report.
The report came at a time of increased tension between MLB officials and players union representatives. Baseball’s average salary fell for an unprecedented second straight year before opening day 2019, even as MLB’s revenues continue to rise, according to an Associated Press study.
Clark previously accused MLB owners of a “two-year attack on free agency,” and player representatives have accused teams of colluding to keep salaries low.