Baseball is a game of highs and lows. In a game where a player hits a grandslam and makes an amazing catch in the outfield, they can also spend a significant amount of time wallowing in the dugout. While there was reason to be hopeful for the state of baseball after Elizabeth Benn was hired as the director of Major League operations for the New York Mets the week of Feb. 27, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to cancel the first two series of the regular season snapped optimistic fans back to reality.
In what MLB insider Jeff Passan has called “a crisis of its own making,” the MLB and its owners have forced baseball’s first work stoppage since the 1994-1995 season—how did we get here? On Dec. 1, baseball’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the agreement that governs almost every aspect of the working relationship between MLB and its players, expired. The next day, the league positioned itself as the aggressor, with the 30 team owners voting unanimously to institute what Manfred called a “defensive lockout”—essentially putting all activities on hold before the players could strike.
The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), an incredibly powerful labour union with over one thousand members, has found itself fighting a losing battle against owners worth billions of dollars and a commissioner that just does not seem to care about his players.
Following the embarrassing three-month negotiation period over the shortened 2020 baseball season, animosity between the MLBPA and the league was left to fester. Despite claiming that they wanted to “jumpstart” negotiations, Manfred and the league waited more than six weeks to make their first proposal on Jan. 13, a proposal that only revealed the massive gap between the financial demands of the MLBPA and the propositions of the MLB.
Player salaries have decreased for four consecutive years, while industry revenues and franchise values have soared. Teams have manipulated their players’ service time to prevent them from entering free agency and salary arbitration. Though the MLB implemented the luxury tax to discourage teams’ frivolous spending, it now works as a de facto salary cap, and many teams are nowhere near it. The current draft rules, signing pools, and international signing structures incentivize losing, forcing players to stand idly by as teams gut their rosters and slash their payrolls.
On Feb. 18, fans were fueled with false hope when Manfred announced that the MLB and MLBPA would meet every day during the week of Feb. 21–25 in hopes of reaching a deal without pushing back opening day. However, as negotiations ramped up, the MLB delayed their self-imposed deadline of Feb. 28 until 5 p.m. March 1.
Dreams of a complete season, propped up by various negotiating tactics on the part of the league, quickly crumbled as Manfred chose to cancel more than 75 games between March 31 and April 5. For Julian Tabbitt, U1 Arts student and avid baseball fan, this lockout has been a long time coming.
“The grievances of the players over minimum pay and minor league living conditions have been an issue for a long time,” Tabbitt said. “MLB owners continue to make billions in profit while they enlist minor leaguers to below minimum wage conditions. Other efforts by Rob Manfred, including expanded playoffs, have been rejected and counteract the whole point of baseball’s 162-game season. We can expect the long and arduous lockout that has been predicted.”
Players across the league have grown increasingly vocal at their disappointment in the league and team owners. Some players have apologized to their young fans, while others have joked about finding new career paths. Even the League’s golden boy Mike Trout took to Twitter, calling the league out for bargaining in bad faith and working toward an unfair deal.
As the snow begins to melt, baseball fans are left to hope and pray that Rob Manfred, a man who called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,” can turn right a ship he seems so desperate to crash, and salvage the 2022 baseball season.