Q&A: MLBPA’s unrest is ‘concerning a little bit to me,’ says former committee member


Collin McHugh, who announced his retirement in January after 11 seasons in the big leagues, was a member of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive subcommittee for about three years, leaving in 2020.

Today, the union’s leadership is trying to sort through a major power struggle. Some players want executive director Tony Clark to remove the union’s second-in-command, Bruce Meyer. A former MLBPA lawyer, Harry Marino, is helping push for that change.

McHugh was a part of the executive subcommittee when Meyer was hired in 2018, and he’s worked with Marino before as well.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

As a former member of the subcommittee, how do you feel about what’s going on?

It’s concerning a little bit to me, just from a logistical standpoint. A lot’s out of the ordinary. It doesn’t seem like what has happened has been communicated very clearly to the majority of people, and that’s concerning. From people I’ve talked to, concerning for them as well.

What do you think of Tony Clark and do you want him to continue in that role?

Tony has done an extremely valuable job in the roles he’s been given over the years. He came into that role when there weren’t a lot of other options, on the heels of Michael (Weiner’s) death and the unpreparedness, that, honestly, the PA had. It’s hard to get thrust into a role that I don’t know that he was super prepared for.

But he has done admirably. The thing he does best — better than anybody else in the world at this point, from a player’s perspective — is speak to players and communicate to players as a player. He did that forever. He played forever.

Tony has done a really good job doing what he needs to do to put the union on a level playing field with the league. I like Tony personally, he’s been a great resource and I consider him a friend.

Same questions about Bruce Meyer?

Bruce reached out the other day, and we were reminiscing about a text I sent him after the last CBA, which was, “We as players owe you a huge debt of gratitude,” because you came in at a time when we really, really needed expertise, and clarity of vision moving forward. He represented both of those things pretty well. 

It’s hard to argue with his resume. He’s probably the foremost professional sports labor lawyer and negotiator in the country. And he decided to take those talents to the PA, at a time when we were relying on Tony and the rest of our negotiating bargaining group. They had faced a tough battle in 2011.

Frankly, we were at a deficit when we went into those negotiations. You’re up against Rob (Manfred) and Dan (Halem), who are arguably the best in the world at what they do as well. So we needed Bruce, and we needed his abilities, we needed his determination. 

And for all of the anecdotal stories of how he is interpersonally and kind of his negotiating style, being in those rooms with him, I feel very confident. He helped us on a lot of levels and pushed both the game and our negotiating power forward. 

Is he perfect? No. Will he tell you he’s perfect? No, absolutely not. But what he brings to the table is something that has been really important and really valuable to us as a baseball community.

Do you know Harry Marino, and do you think he should have a spot in union leadership?

I do know Harry. I worked with Harry on his nonprofit Advocates for Minor Leaguers. That ended up being the organization that ran the grassroots organizing movement for minor leaguers.

Harry was relatively new at it, but came into it with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of good energy. You got to be able to talk to guys at any and all hours, which he did a really good job of. And then when we brought them under the umbrella of the PA, I was under the assumption until very recently that he was going to be still very involved in the minor-league side of things. 

And apparently things kind of went sideways in some capacity there, it didn’t work out that way. But I’ve known Harry for a while, and I’ve seen what he’s capable of on the labor side of things, and he was very instrumental in that pretty historic organizing movement.

Do you think he should now be inside the PA?

I don’t know exactly how things went down when he left. He was actively involved, and through — I don’t know exactly how to put it — differing opinions, he saw himself out. Josh Thole who was working with him, obviously a former player I’ve known for years, followed him (out of the PA). 

It would be hard for me to see, after what’s gone down very recently, a space where Harry is involved in day-to-day things at the union while Tony and Bruce are still there. I think that’s probably the best way I can put it.

Has this week been damaging to the players’ overall standing, meaning bargaining strength or unity? 

It’s hard to say bargaining strength, because we’re two and a half years out of the next CBA. It’s not a good thing when you’re potentially losing a lead negotiator and/or questioning executive directors. I don’t think that puts you in a position of strength. But sometimes those things are necessary to move forward. In organizations, there’s reorgs that happen all the time, all across the country.

I would say it’s concerning to me to see an organization like ours — which has put in a lot of really, really good work in over the last decade to be in good standing — be in flux right now, without a clear path forward.

There are questions of how the current PA leadership communicates. Were there communication issues? 

Communication is very difficult in what we do. You have a bunch of individuals (as players) who are trying to do a day-to-day job that is very stressful, and it’s very high intensity, and it’s hard to get focus shifted from that to the labor side of things. Communication has to be concise, it has to be very clear, and it has to be kind of actionable. Players have to know what is expected of them or what they need to be doing, in anything.

There’s a lot of different arms to the PA now that there haven’t necessarily been in the past. There’s an entire swath of players in the minor leagues now who have to be represented well, to be communicated with well, and that’s all new and changing pretty constantly. There’s a lot of new business things that are happening from Players Inc. 

It can be a little overwhelming, as a player, to look at all of the different things and try and whittle down what are the most important. And I think that’s the issue a lot of times: What’s the most important thing to the PA might not necessarily be the most important thing to player A, B, C, down the line. So getting everybody on the same page about priorities is always the hardest part. 

We’re seeing right now when priorities differ between players and leadership, it’s really not a great place to try and push the ball down the field from. There have been a lot of challenges from the communication standpoint, in my experience, in my time with the PA, and things that probably do need to be addressed and remedied and streamlined and made more clear. But the way it’s happening right now would not be my first choice for how it’s done.

Were communication issues what led to the executive subcommittee wanting players to fight longer and for more gains in 2022, but for the overall body to vote otherwise? 

It goes back to what I was just saying, that players at different levels are gonna have different priorities. Ten different players on ten different teams can feel ten different ways. And then trying to distill that into, “What is a solid strategy moving forward in bargaining?” is a big challenge — while also trying not to give the other side of the bargaining table a ton of information and a ton of clarity into what people may or may not want. 

Trying to keep things under wraps, I know that was a hard thing. Information was being disseminated in some capacity outside of normal channels, and that’s going to happen, it’s part of the strategy. But I think it was a challenging part of the strategy from a player side, because you end up getting a couple of different opinions from a couple different places and you’re not sure exactly, what are we actually trying to get to?

The players on the subcommittee obviously are privy to more information than the general player population. And the player reps who are on those calls are also trying to work as a middleman there. I know that there was a lot of communication that people were unsure of what players at the top, in the leadership roles, actually thought. 

When it comes down to a vote, you’re voting on essentially the rules that you’re gonna be living by over the next five, seven years. Being on the outside of player leadership at that point, I was looking at things, saying, “I’m not even 100 percent sure exactly what’s going on here.” So it becomes incumbent upon players on an individual level to ask a lot of questions, and that’s not always a priority.

Was there something left on the table in 2022 that players should have fought longer for? The dissatisfaction with the economics at the moment, how does that register to you?

You have to be willing to leave something on the table in order to get to an agreement. Both sides understand that. When I’m in a bargaining room, I’m very aware that people on both sides of the table have priorities, and also know that the priority is, at the end of the day, to reach an agreement. 

You want to fight against that revisionist history. I’ll say it straight to Rob Manfred’s face: They’re better at finding loopholes in the system, because that is their job, to maximize profit for his constituency, which is 30 billionaire owners, who own extremely valuable franchises. And they’re trying to squeeze and eke every dollar out of it that they can.

I don’t have an issue with that. The issue that I have is when you’ve been sitting in bargaining sessions for months, potentially years, talking about specific issues, raising specific concerns, and then to see those kind of weaponized at some level — like, “Well, we’ve found a way to get around the things that we (players) were trying to do,” it feels a little dishonest. 

I’ve seen that be a truth at the end of these things (CBAs) every time, and then you have to go back to the drawing board.

We’re looking at that again. How do we remedy those things moving forward? For a lot of the work that a lot of people have put in for a lot of years, it seems a little elementary to think that you can just tear down, start from scratch and things are automatically going to be better.

This is a relatively new executive subcommittee, with only two members remaining who were there during bargaining in 2021-22, Marcus Semien and Francisco Lindor. Was some institutional knowledge lost? 

When a lot of new faces are coming in, a lot of new questions are going to be asked that have probably already been raised, probably already have been talked through ad nauseam, and guys don’t necessarily know that. Sometimes it’s good to bring something up again, and look at it from a different perspective with new eyes. 

But yeah, there is an institutional knowledge that I’m still learning. There’s 50 years of union activity and discussion and negotiation and history that I think it’s incumbent upon us players to really internalize and understand in order to know how to move forward.


Marcus Semien and Francisco Lindor are part of the MLBPA’s executive subcommittee as association reps. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

It’s a different world than we lived in when I get on the board for the first time and I’ve got Andrew Miller and Daniel Murphy and Max Scherzer and guys who have been through and seen a lot of things. There’s a lot more at play than probably a lot of players think, at any given time. 

The game is younger, there’s new blood and new people inside the organization: How do we communicate effectively to them what has already happened, where we are right now and what we need moving forward?

Were there budget concerns in your time?

There’s always budget concerns, it’s a business entity. We know our time in this game is very short, so players are always trying to maximize what they can do, what they can earn.

I had a long conversation with a couple people at the PA recently asking questions like, “Hey, explain to me some of these things, because I’ve heard I’ve heard the same concerns. Where’s the money going? How is it being spent? Is it being spent effectively? Is there a better use?”

Listen, things cost money. Offices cost money, moving costs money, hiring new staff to do different things that we’ve never had to do before, costs money. Once again it goes back to clarity, it goes back to communication, being able to answer questions that guys might have without them becoming bigger, more conspiratorial-type concerns.

I will say, I am unconcerned on a lot of the levels that I’ve heard from players, because I have a little bit more information, and it’s not conspiratorial. It’s pretty black and white, numbers and dollars and cents, of how they get spent. 

An audit is never a bad thing. I don’t think any organization that’s worth its salt is going to be scared of saying, “Yeah, let’s see if we can trim some fat somewhere. Let’s see if we can streamline our processes and get a little bit better, and more efficient.” And I’ve seen them do that over and over again at the PA. 

At the board meetings, you’re voting on everything, you’re voting on every dollar and cent. So once again, it is incumbent upon players to be informed, and then vote when those things come up.

Does Scott Boras (who was not your agent) run the union, and how do you look at the overall power that all agents have with regard to the union?

Scott does not run the union. That is not a thing that has happened ever in my experience. I know a lot of people closely who are clients of his, who have been around him for years, other agents. I’ve explored this in enough depth that I feel very confident saying Scott does not wield unnecessary or otherworldly power within the union. 

He represents a lot of players at the top of the market. And so that is necessarily going to come with a little bit of influence, not necessarily over the union itself, but over how a free market plays out. And so yeah, he ends up being at the center of things more often than not, because he’s the one holding a lot of the cards. 

From when I’ve talked to his people, he’s concerned with getting his clients the most money possible, which ultimately is going to make him a wealthier person, and like his organization, have more clout and be able to recruit more players. He’s an agent. He’s not a labor negotiator. He is not a back-channeling politician. I think his story and his ethos is way overblown from that respect. 

The personal aspect of it that a lot of people just have with him, you don’t have to like somebody to respect what they’re doing. There are agencies, other big agencies, who have a lot of big-time players, who I think see what they assume is that model of wielding power and influence, and could be tempted to try and dip their toe into that pool as well. 

I’m not saying that’s happening right now. But I do think that as players in one sector of the market group themselves into one of a few agency powerhouses, a groupthink can become an issue that, “What is important to me is fact, and that is universal.”

We have players that come from, not just every socio-economic background, but are in different layers and different levels of their career, of where they’re at in their service time. And culturally, let’s not forget, a quarter to a third of the league is Latin, and they have an entire other culture that they’re coming from.

To try and distill it down to one specific thing or person or entity or issue is doing it all a huge disservice.

What has the last week been like for you personally as you hear about this unfold, and is there a takeaway you’d like to share?

I’m fielding calls and questions from a lot of guys around the league, just trying to get information. I just retired, I’m trying to go play a little golf and hang out with my kids in the backyard. I have to be honest with them and say, “I don’t have a ton of information, but I’ll ask around. I’ll make phone calls.” But also, I’m listening to concerns. Not only are these my former teammates and fellow union members, a lot of them are friends. And it’s concerning to hear them in the middle of trying to compete say, “Am I missing something? Am I doing something wrong here? Am I not staying as involved as I should have?”

A lot of second-guessing, based on really just a lack of information. And so at the end of the day, I’m concerned for players. Ultimately, I’ve been encouraged. As discouraged as I’ve been by how the process has played out, I’ve been really encouraged by players’ commitment to this responsibility. 

The concerns that I’ve heard raised are: “Are we operating effectively as a union? And if not, how do we address these things?” And once again, I think it goes back to Tony. I support Tony and I’ve been very happy to see Tony step out in a leadership role and say, “Hey, we hear all of this, and we are taking all this very seriously, and we’ll do something about this.”

I’d say, patience. Because the worst thing anybody can do in a situation in which change is trying or needing to happen is to rush into things, and to do things without having a full circumspect view of what needs to be the strategy moving forward. And also, trust: Trust in each other, and trust in the union that has represented us as well or better than any other professional sports union in the history of professional sports.

This is an important thing to get right, and I think that the leadership there is very committed to getting this right.

(Top photo of Collin McHugh: Matthew Grimes Jr. / Atlanta Braves / Getty Images)





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