Major League Baseball hosts an annual symposium on arbitration wherein delegates from each team come together with the league to make recommendations for upcoming arbitration hearings. There is a ceremony near the end of the symposium when a “championship belt” is awarded to the team that best accomplished the “goals set by the industry,” per The Athletic’s Marc Carig. Passed annually from one year’s winner to the next, The Belt is a chintzy, plastic “prize,” intended as a moment of levity and morale for what can be a difficult process on all sides. In this thoughtful article, Carig digs into the arbitration process, its history, the toll it takes on those involved, and of course, The Belt.
Clearly, given the tumultuous relationship between Major League Baseball, the owners, and the Players’ Association, the optics here aren’t great. However harmless the intent (or however private), an award for essentially best limiting the earning potential for players is not likely to sit well with the MLBPA – or the public for that matter. MLB confirmed existence of The Belt, explaining it as “an informal recognition of those club’s salary arbitration departments that did the best.” This season, the finalists were the Astros, Braves, Cubs, Indians, Rays, and Twins.
Executive Director of the MLBPA Tony Clark reacted with a statement (via Twitter), saying, “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.”