MLB Enters Its First Lockout in 26 Years Amid Spat Between Owners and Players
The last time the Major League Baseball (MLB) locked out players was before the 1990 season, and it was followed by the players' strike of 1994-95, that even saw the cancellation of the World Series.
After the baseball club owners and players failed to negotiate a deal on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on Wednesday, the first MLB lockout in more than 26 years began on Thursday.
The CBA essentially regulates almost every aspect of the working relationships between the owners and the players, but after both sides traded their suggestions for the agreement and failed to satisfy each other, the MLB announced the lockout in a "letter to baseball fans"
, pointing the finger at the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).
"This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive," Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred wrote. "It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions."
According to the MLB, the League has offered the players options like a minimum payroll for all clubs to meet for the first time in baseball history, allowance of free agency for "the majority of players" and increased compensation for all young players.
The statement prompted a swift response from the Players Association, which said that the lockout, dubbed by the MLB as "defensive", was "the owners' choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure Players into relinquishing rights and benefits".
"This shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing. It is not required by law or for any other reason," the MLBPA statement
read. "[...] We remain determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated collective bargaining agreement that is fair to all parties and provides fans with the best version of the game we all love."
In an apparent effort to comfort the fans over concerning news, the owners pointed out that the lockout does not necessarily mean the cancellation of the games. Previous lockouts (there were four of them in the industry history) did not lead to the cancellation of games. However, the 1990 lockout was followed by the players' strike in 1994-95 - a work stoppage that even cancelled the World Series at the time.
The memory of that incident is still fresh, with the MLB addressing it in its statement.
"We cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994. We all owe you, our fans, better than that," Manfred stated.
The Players Association also hinted that "these tactics are not new".
"We have been here before, and Players have risen to the occasion time and again - guided by a solidarity that has been forged over generations," the MLBPA wrote. "We will do so again here."
What is the Problem Between Players and Owners?
During the fruitless negotiations, players requested improvements like getting young players compensated sooner in their careers, allowing players to reach free agency sooner, raising the luxury tax thresholds from their current $210 million to $245 million and other things. Particularly, the players are apparently seeking to address their reducing share of league revenues (which also means a decrease in average player salary).
Owners, in their turn, believe that "the Players Association already had a contract that they wouldn’t trade for any other in sports". It also appears to have a different view on the free agency system, which the MLBPA dubbed "broken".
"While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is 'broken' – in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x. By the end of the off-season, Clubs will have committed more money to players than in any off-season in MLB history," Manfred argued in his letter.
The lockout appears to be more of a preemptive measure, which does not yet put the season in jeopardy. The work stoppage has been announced well ahead of the spring training, and both sides have in certain ways indicated their understanding of the necessity of further CBA talks.
The owners said that the step is being taken now as a means of "protecting" the upcoming 2022 season, saying that there is "a path to a fair agreement".
It is not clear, however, how long will it take for the parties to forge an agreement. Past work stoppages usually lasted less than a week, but both sides appear to keep in mind the aftermath of the 1994-95 strike.
The worst-case scenario may be that the players and owners will not find a compromise and the current stoppage will cause rescheduling or even the cancellation of the regular games of the season.