Skip to contents
Podcasts

Getting To No, With Lauren Theisen

Rob Manfred, seen here at a press conference talking about how hard the owners have worked to reach a deal after locking out the players.
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

At some point during the MLB lockout I realized that I had come to hate the acronyms. This is not the acronyms’ fault; they’re just trying to help by shortening clanging labor-dispute terminology like Competitive Balance Tax into zippy little miniatures like CBT. Which is fine, it’s not like I want to say “Competitive Balance Tax” any more than I want to think about or talk about or even really know about the Competitive Balance Tax. It’s the abstracting effect of the acronym, mostly. The way it shrinks a deliberately slippery phrasing—one that it is itself standing in for a concept that was instantly embraced by the sport’s owners as a de facto soft salary cap—into something even more willfully mystified and jargonized.

This is kind of a long way of explaining why the letters “CBT” appear roughly 11,500 times in this week’s lockout-centric episode. Drew and I were joined by Distraction royalty Lauren Theisen to discuss the fury and fuckery of a labor dispute that either is or isn’t close to ending, and which will also never end.

There are only so many ways to talk about any of this. It keeps changing, but only in the way that tides do. The proposals drift closer and closer, the owners introduce some new caveat or last-minute condition at some crucial moment, or find some reason or way to refuse to accept the union’s proposal, and everything floats back out. I am writing this at a moment of relative optimism, with the proposed International Draft—proposed, as is the owners’ wont, at a moment when a deal on things like the CBT thresholds and penalties seemed close—backburnered for the time being and other numbers now nearly aligned. It has been like this several times in the last week, though. The tide always retreats.

After a while, when you are talking about the CBT, you are both talking about one of the biggest sticking points in the lockout, and pointedly not talking about that dispute. The different layers of euphemism in which the essential (and not terribly complicated) question of how much of everything owners can keep for themselves, and from the players is wrapped tends to have an obscuring effect, which is both by design and just how language works. But there comes a time when using the language of this dispute—the business-boy acronyms of ownership, the baited names for all the new bonus pools and mechanisms that ownership is hoping will help it continue to keep as much as it can forever—comes to feel like the dispute itself, which is to say like circling an obvious central point very slowly, on a traffic-clogged beltway lined with insulting advertisements, while the fuel dial reels toward E.

All of which is to say that I was “on one” for a lot of this episode, as Lauren and I took turns explaining why and how things got this lame and I became progressively more red and prone to long mid-sentence pauses. But when we returned from the break, we were back to something like normal. Lauren did her Hockey Minute, but I kind of checked out during that one, to be honest. I’m pretty sure there was something about the Calgary Flames. A Funbag question on adult caffeine dependence dovetailed nicely with Wednesday’s post on Defector staff caffeine habits, although none of us yet knew the horrible truth about Albert’s espresso habit revealed in that post. We remembered Gene Larkin, or anyway I did; Lauren might have faintly remembered being present on the Remember Some Guys set while I remembered Gene Larkin, or she might not have. The standard belt buckle was considered as a vector of disease, and inspired me to remember my favorite Funbag question: It was the one about the delicious-looking, totally untouched Italian hero sandwich sitting atop a truck-stop urinal, and whether it would be OK to eat it. It says something about where we are, in the lockout and in general, that I found this so much more pleasant to think about than everything we’d discussed to that point. But when you’ve spent enough time considering the CBT, the ethical considerations of The Toilet Sandwich look pretty appetizing.

If you would like to subscribe to The Distraction, you can do that at Stitcher, or through Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever else you might get your podcasts. If you’d like to listen to an ad-free version of the podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium; a free month of Stitcher Premium can be yours if you use the promotional code “DISTRACT.” Thank you as always for your support.