MLB owners lock down players in first job stoppage since 1995

IRVING, Texas (AP) – Major League Baseball fell into its first shutdown in a quarter of a century as the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night and owners instantly locks players in a move that threatens opening day and spring training.

The strategy, the equivalent of a strike under federal labor laws by management, ended the sport’s labor peace in 9,740 days over 26 and a half years.

Teams decided to force their long-awaited head-to-head confrontations over a season rather than risk letting players go over the summer, as they did in 1994. Players and owners alike have enjoyed success. four deals in a row with no downtime, but they’re speeding toward a clash in more than two years.

“We believe the off-season lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to the fan. “We hope that the shutdown will start the negotiations and bring us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockdown is necessary because the players union’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the competitiveness of most teams. “

Negotiations that began last spring ended on Wednesday after a brief session of just minutes with different parties on dozens of key economic issues. Management negotiators left the union hotel about nine hours before the deal lapsed at 11:59 p.m. EST.

MLB’s 30 control holders held a brief digital meeting to reaffirm their lockdown decision, and MLB made the announcement of a fourth yard lock – along with five strikes – in an emailed letter to the Baseball League Baseball Players Association.

“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players’ determination to achieve a fair contract,” federation chief Tony Clark said in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves product for fans, and enhances the rights and benefits of membership.”

This shutdown begins 30 days after Atlanta’s World Series win limited a complete 2020 post-pandemic season to a shortened playing field in empty football fields.

The immediate impact of the course is a memo from MLB to clubs’ contract freezes, the cancellation of next week’s annual winter meetings in Orlando, Florida, and the expulsion of players from training facilities and the team’s gym while presumably reducing ticket prices for 2022.

NS union required change follows anger over average wages dropping, middleweight players being forced out by teams focused on paying the rich and veterans in favor of lower-paid young people, especially among the clubs tearing down their squads to rebuild.

“As players, we see big problems with it,” New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said of the 2016 deal. “First and foremost, we noticed a competition problem. competition and how the teams are behaving because of certain rules in there and need to be adjusted for that to bring about competition.”

Eleven weeks remain until pitchers and catchers must report to spring training on February 16, with about 70 days left to reach an agreement allowing on-time start. The opening date is set for March 31 and previously required at least three weeks of organized practice.

Management, intending to maintain the wage cap hit in recent decades, has rejected union requests for what teams see as significant changes to the economic structure of the company. sport, including reduced service time required for free agency and wage arbitration.

“We propose to establish a minimum wage table for all clubs that meet for the first time in baseball history; to allow the majority of players to access free agents earlier through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of service time manipulation; and to increase wages for all young players,” Manfred wrote. “When the negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to generate some by offering to accept the popular designated hitter, to create a new draft system using a similar lottery. like any other tournament.”

Many clubs scramble to add players before the shutdown, committing more than $1.9 billion in new contracts – including one day record more than $1.4 billion on Wednesday.

Two of the eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee signed major contracts: Texas quarterbacks Marcus Semien ($175 million) and Scherzer ($130 million).

“This is really exciting,” says Scherzer. “I’m a fan of the game and to see people sign right now, to really watch the teams compete in this trendy fashion, it’s refreshing because we’ve seen a freeze in the game. some recent competitions.”

No player has resumed active duty since a 232-day strike that cut short the 1994 season, leading to the first World Series cancellation in 90 years and causing the next season to start late.

Average wages fell from $1.17 million before the strike to $1.11 million but then continued to rise as seemingly inevitable. It peaked at just under $4.1 million in 2017, the first season of the latest CBA, but will likely drop to around $3.7 million when this year’s final figures are calculated.

That money is heavily concentrated at the top of the salary structure. Of the approximately 1,955 players who have signed major league contracts at any point since the final month of the regular season, 112 have earned $10 million or more this year through August 31. , of which 40 people earned at least $20 million, including proportional shares at signing bonuses.

There were 1,397 people making under $1 million, of which 1,271 were at $600,000 or less and 332 under $100,000, a group of young players that shuttle minors.

A union statement claimed the lockdown was “specifically calculated to pressure players to give up their rights and interests, and to waive good faith bargaining proposals that would not only benefit players.” but also for games and industry. … We have been here before, and the players have risen again and again – guided by a solidarity that has been forged through generations. ”

The union has withheld the license money, as it usually goes into negotiation; cash, U.S. Treasury securities and investments totaled $178.5 million as of December 31 of last year, according to a financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Some player representatives have speculated that management’s credit lines could come under pressure following an income shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but the clubs’ finances are more publicly available than they are. with the federation, making it relatively difficult to determine the relative financial strength of a protracted undertaking. stop.

Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner in 2015 after a quarter-century as an MLB labor negotiator. He was unusually critical of the union’s stance.

“They never wavered from the harshest set of proposals in their history,” he said, “including the dramatic cuts to the revenue-sharing system, the weakening of a competitive equilibrium tax and shorten the amount of time that players play for their team. All these changes will make our game less competitive. “ MLB owners lock down players in first job stoppage since 1995

Dais Johnston

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