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Bill Shaikin: Major League Baseball is headed for a lockout. Is Ted Cruz the only one who can stop it?
AP

Bill Shaikin: Major League Baseball is headed for a lockout. Is Ted Cruz the only one who can stop it?

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Ted Cruz speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — In 2017, after his hometown Houston Astros won the World Series, Sen. Ted Cruz rode in the team’s parade. He posted a picture of himself alongside Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and the championship trophy.

And, when Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) ripped the Astros as “miserable cheaters” during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing last year, Cruz gallantly rode to their defense.

“The scurrilous lies about the Astros, I think, should be stricken from the record and forgotten by all,” Cruz said.

This is Dodgers territory, so we side with Sasse, but we respect Cruz for sticking up for his team.

Fans might not have the chance to support their team next year. The 2022 season is in jeopardy and Cruz could be the unlikely person to save it.

In April, after Georgia adopted laws that voting rights advocates say make it harder for people to vote, MLB moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

In response, Cruz and two other senators introduced a bill to revoke the league’s antitrust exemption.

“If Major League Baseball was going to allow itself to be politicized, there was no reason they should get special benefits nobody else gets,” Cruz said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times.

Since 1950, according to Indiana University professor Nathaniel Grow, Congress has held more than 60 hearings to debate the exemption, never repealing it. History suggests the exemption will stand, the All-Star Game will be played in Denver, and Cruz will have accomplished nothing more than to throw a few verbal darts at the league.

If Cruz truly wants to take action to punish Manfred and the league’s owners, he can.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement expires in December. With relations between owners and the players’ union chilly at best, fans are bracing for the possibility that owners could lock out players before the 2022 season could start.

Cruz and the Senate could take the lockout card off the table. Under the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, lockouts would be banned, unless employees already had gone on strike.

The players’ union has publicly supported the PRO Act. The league has said nothing, aware that the number of senators currently committed to vote yes is not enough to win.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who shepherded the PRO Act through the House of Representatives, said he has no idea whether the bill can pass the Senate.

“The Senate is not a functioning legislative body at this point,” Scott told The Times.

In a democracy, from the House of Representatives to your eighth-grade student council, majority rules. Except, that is, in the Senate, where a majority often is not enough to rule.

If every Democratic senator and the two independents who caucus with them voted for the PRO Act, the bill could get 50 votes. But in the Senate that would not be enough to pass. The bill needs the votes of at least 10 Republican senators.

In normal times, the suggestion that Republicans would support a bill that would strengthen organized labor would be folly. The traditional alliance between the Republicans and big business, however, has frayed, with such corporate heavyweights as American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Dell, Delta and Home Depot speaking up alongside MLB, and against voting restrictions.

Cruz mocked Coca-Cola as “woke Coke.” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, criticized corporations for “behaving like a woke parallel government.” Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, told American Compass: “Corporate America’s [the] Democratic Party. The American worker is the Republican Party.”

Indeed, Cruz said, that is the direction his party should go.

“I do think, as Republicans, we should be the party of working men and women,” Cruz told The Times. “We should be the party of steelworkers and construction workers, and cops and firefighters, and waiters and waitresses, and the men and women with calluses on their hands.”

Those working men and women are primarily union members. The PRO Act strengthens unions in part by outlawing “right-to-work” statutes under which employees can benefit from union contracts without paying dues, and by forbidding companies from mandating attendance at meetings intended to get employees to vote against a union.

The PRO Act is decidedly pro-labor, but Cruz is against it.

“I don’t think the policy answer is for Congress to tilt the playing field in favor of union bosses,” Cruz said.

To Scott, that would be leveling the playing field. But back to baseball: Would preventing a lockout tilt the playing field in favor of players?

“As much as I love baseball players,” Cruz said, “when I think of an oppressed group of workers, I’m not sure professional baseball players are at the top of that list.”

While sports labor disputes tend to be characterized as billionaire owners against millionaire players, 46% of players on opening day rosters are making less than $1 million this year, with 35% under $600,000, according to the Associated Press.

The average major league career lasts three to four years. Major leaguers lost 63% of their salary to the pandemic last season, and a lockout would put their salary next season at risk.

“The star players could obviously take care of themselves,” Scott said. “But, for everybody else, the people with three- to five-year careers, the guys that sit on the bench, utility players, nobody is waiting for them to come back. They’re just defenseless.

“That’s why you have negotiations.”

Cruz does love baseball. He recalled how, as a young man, he sat through all 22 innings of an Astros-Dodgers game at the Astrodome, one that ended at 2:52 a.m., on a single off the glove of emergency first baseman Fernando Valenzuela.

“The 14th inning stretch is cool,” Cruz said, “but the 21st inning stretch is surreal.”

The opening day of the 2022 season would be the first in three years with full crowds and military flyovers, with red, white and blue bunting draped over ballpark railings and enormous American flags unfurled across the outfield.

But none of that is assured so long as a lockout can be threatened. Sen. Cruz, you can lead a charge to save the national pastime. It would be, dare we say, the patriotic thing to do.

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