The collective bargaining agreement between MLB owners and players expires at 10:59 p.m. CT tomorrow, Wednesday, December 1.
The two sides have been negotiating, but there seems no indication at this time that a deal will be made in time to avoid a lockout that would begin Thursday, December 2, and in fact, the flurry of free-agent signings Sunday would seem to be an indication that baseball will indeeed shut down Thursday. So is this:
CBA talks have begun in Dallas but word is the Dec. 2 lockout is a certainty. There is said to be incremental movement but not nearly enough progress; the sides haven’t talked much about core economic issues today. Two days to go but basically no hope to avoid a work stoppage,— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 30, 2021
If a lockout does happen, it will be the ninth time baseball will grind to a halt since 1972. It will, however, be the first stoppage in 27 years, since a strike wiped out a third of the 1994 season, that year’s postseason and part of the 1995 season.
This time, unlike many of the other stoppages, we’re not in Spring Training or the regular season. It’s late November, four months before the first regular season game. This gives the parties time to reach a deal. Commissioner Rob Manfred even says lockouts are good!
Rob Manfred: "An offseason lockout that moves the process forward is different than a labor dispute that costs games."— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) November 18, 2021
Pardon me while I roll my eyes at that one.
Here are the eight previous MLB work stoppages, the reasons they happened, and the end result of each.
The disputes here were over player pensions and salary arbitration. The latter had not previously been part of the labor agreement, but was added for the first time. Players got a $500,000 addition to pension payments (I realize that doesn’t sound like much now, but the MLB minimum salary in 1972 was $13,500 and $500,000 back then was big money. It’s equivalent to about $3.3 million today).
The strike lasted 13 days and 86 games were lost from the schedule. Owners refused to pay players for the days missed, so the games were not made up and the schedule simply began two days after the strike ended. One problem stemming from that was that teams did not all play the same number of games. That resulted in the Red Sox losing out on the AL East title by half a game because they played only 155 games and went 85-70 to the Tigers’ 156 games and 86-70 record.
This wiped out a couple of weeks at the beginning of Spring Training but no games, either spring or regular season, were lost.
Arbitration was again the issue. Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons had refused to sign a contract, one of the first efforts to challenge the reserve clause. Simmons finally signed a deal mid-season, but nervous owners figured a salary arbitration deal would benefit them, so they agreed to a system very much like the one we now have.
No games were lost in this lockout.
This happened after the famous arbitration ruling by Peter Seitz that freed Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith from their contracts, making them free agents, and ended the reserve clause forever.
Spring Training camps were closed for 17 days, but eventually a new Basic Agreement was signed and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered camps reopened. No regular season games were lost.
Free agency had begun after the Seitz ruling and owners started doling out big-money (well, for that time, anyway) contracts. Wanting to protect themselves from each other, owners wanted some form of compensation for losing a free agent. Owners originally proposed teams could select any player (other than 12 “protected” players) from a signing team’s roster. You can probably see why this proposal went nowhere.
Players struck after games of June 11. It took seven weeks for players and owners to come to an agreement which set up a compensation pool for “premium” free agent signings. Among other things, this is how Tom Seaver became a member of the White Sox. They had lost Steve Mura (yeah, I know. Who?) to free agency and the Mets, not thinking anyone would take the then 36-year-old Seaver, left him unprotected.
This led to the “split season” format, where “winners” of the first half (of course, when the season began no one knew there would be “halves”) would face the winner of the post-strike games within their divisions.
This led to the two teams with the best records in the NL, the Cardinals and Reds, missing the playoffs entirely, since they didn’t win either “half.” What MLB should have done is had the second-half winner play the team with the best overall record. If that winds up being the same team as the team that won the second half, then you call on the first-half “winner.”
Trust me, Rob Manfred is not the only baseball commissioner to not be a baseball fan. Bowie Kuhn screwed this up big time. A total of 712 games, a bit less than a third of a full season, were lost.
This happened so quickly you might have missed it. The previous labor agreement had expired December 31, 1984 but owners and players had agreed to start the 1985 season without a deal in place.
The dispute surrounded pension payments, again, and after two days owners capitulated and contribute $33 million for the next three years to the pension fund and $39 million in 1989. The minimum player salary was also increased from $40,000 to $60,000.
Also, at this time the free agent compensation pool was eliminated.
All the games missed were made up as if they had been rainouts, either as parts of doubleheaders or on off days, but:
Players’ pay for the two lost days will depend on when the makeups are played. If a game is rescheduled as a separate date, players will receive their entire pay for that day. If a game is rescheduled as part of a doubleheader, players will receive half pay. Thus, players could miss no pay at all, or they could lose the equivalent of one day’s salary. They will not lose service-credit time for the strike.
No wonder players don’t trust owners.
Again there had been an agreement ending at the end of the previous year and no progress had been made, so owners felt a lockout would help push the process along. (Sound familiar?)
Free agency and arbitration were the issues. Owners proposed to give players 48 percent of revenues in exchange for a salary cap, with compensation tiered to a “pay for performance” scale. (Sound familiar? This is pretty much Rob Manfred’s idea, then and now.)
This all went nowhere while Spring Training was mostly cancelled. Finally, owners agreed to raise the minimum salary from $68,000 to $100,000 and form a “study committee” regarding revenue sharing.
Due to the cancellation of the bulk of Spring Training, the first week of regular season games was postponed and rescheduled for the week after the season was to end, pushing the end of the regular season back from September 27 to October 3. No regular season games were lost.
Arbitration, salaries and free agency were once again at the forefront. In June, owners made this proposal to players, which would have eliminated salary arbitration, given players free agency two years earlier (but with restrictions) and institute a salary cap.
You can imagine how far this went with players.
The offer was rejected and a strike date was set for August 12, which did in fact happen. Talks continued through August and early September, with owners at one point proposing a “tax” on the 16 highest payrolls, to be divided among the other 12 teams.
Bud Selig, not yet commissioner but holding the title “Chairman of the Executive Council,” called off the rest of the season and postseason September 14:
At his news conference, Selig said: “There’s an incredible amount of sadness. It is very hard as I told the group on the phone to articulate the poignancy of this moment. There is a failure of so much. Lest anybody not understand, there can’t be any joy on any side.”
Talks continued during the fall and winter, to no avail. Bills were introduced in Congress to end the strike; all failed. President Bill Clinton ordered a resumption of bargaining in late January. By this time Players Association chief Don Fehr had declared 800+ MLB players free agents:
The union informed the clubs that the approximately 800 unsigned players who were tendered contracts two weeks ago are free agents, or will become so, because the changes the clubs made in the uniform player’s contract made the tenders improper.
Chuck O’Connor, the owners’ chief labor lawyer, immediately disputed the contention made by Donald Fehr, the head of the union. Similar to every other aspect of the ongoing labor dispute, their differences will be headed for resolution by a third party.
You can see how far this is going to go. Owners opened spring camps in 1995 with replacement players, mostly minor leaguers and others who had not been under MLB contract, and played some spring games.
I could go on for quite some time about this, but in the end an injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor (who now sits on the Supreme Court) enjoined owners from using replacement players and, as the players had voted to end the strike if such a ruling was made, the strike was over.
A 144-game season was played in 1995 starting in late April. It can be reasonably stated that the biggest casualty of this labor stoppage was the Montreal Expos. They had the best record in baseball at 74-40 when the strike began. Had the Expos gotten to or won the 1994 World Series — they never did get to a WS in all their years in Montreal — they’d probably have sold a lot more tickets and gotten more corporate sponsorships in 1995. With that money they’d likely have kept star players like Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Moises Alou, John Wetteland and others they eventually traded away, and perhaps could have remained a powerhouse in the late 1990s. This new stadium was proposed for the Expos and likely would have been built in that circumstance. Maybe they stay in Montreal instead of moving to Washington in 2005.
All told, the 1994-95 strike cancelled 938 games and the entire postseason and fans were quite angry. Attendance dropped significantly for the next three years, reviving only in 1998 as a result of the Sosa/McGwire home run race.
There has been labor peace, if uneasy, in baseball since then. Players nearly went out again in August 2002, settling on a deal August 30 just hours before the first game of that day, Cubs vs. Cardinals at Wrigley Field, was to be played. I well remember paying attention to news reports that morning, wondering if there was going to be a game that afternoon. (The lousy 2002 Cubs, 95-game losers, lost that game 6-3.)
Since then, players have given away a lot on economic issues and focused on issues of player comfort in recent agreements with owners. That’s not likely to be the case this time. A lockout has not yet been called, but I suspect it will be three days from now.
After that, we shall, as always, await developments.