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Spring Training clearly isn’t going to start on time. Why won’t MLB say so?

The powers that be are being disrespectful to fans.

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Al Yellon

It’s February 18. It’s going to be beautiful in Mesa, Arizona today — sunny and about 72 degrees. I should be heading over to the Sloan Park complex to watch some pitcher and catcher workouts, and maybe see a few position players who were in camp before the usual reporting date. I should be getting ready to attend a game in eight days, preparing to see friends I haven’t seen in a year, all the things I normally do to gear up for another season of Major League Baseball.

Instead, I’m sitting at my computer again, reading baseball news that doesn’t change. We’re no closer to a collective-bargaining agreement between MLB players and owners than we were 79 days ago, when owners locked players out because, as Commissioner Rob Manfred said, that would “jumpstart” negotiations.

Which is now supposed to happen:

What I fail to understand is how there is a “Feb. 28 deadline” when actual spring games are supposed to happen two days before that. MLB owners owe fans at least an explanation of that. But, at least we now have some sort of firm deadline:

I tend to agree with this take:

Craig isn’t the only one using the term “bad faith”:

This might give you some optimism that a deal can be made:

But then Ben Nicholson-Smith throws cold water on that. This could be a real sticking point, because owners clearly want expanded playoffs. Or it could “jumpstart” things. Who knows?

Let’s be fair here. The MLBPA put itself into this position by negotiating poorly the last time the CBA came up for renewal at the end of the 2016 season. They did so largely because they put their executive director, Tony Clark, in charge of the negotiations. While Clark is a well-respected former player, that doesn’t give him the knowledge necessary to play hardball in negotiations with trained labor lawyers, which Manfred and his deputy commissioner, Dan Halem, are. Clark focused mainly on lifestyle issues — important, no doubt — but players lost a lot of ground in the last CBA. It could take them several bargaining cycles to catch up. But you gotta start somewhere.

Now, on to the topic broached in the headline to this article. Eight days ago, Manfred held a news conference during which it was widely thought he’d announce a delay in the start of Spring Training and spring games, and possibly the regular season. Didn’t happen. During a short negotiating session two days later, it was reported a calendar was discussed with players with some dates that would have to be met in order for the season to begin on time. But that calendar was never made public.

Seventeen days ago, I wrote this article noting some key dates to remember regarding when certain events (pitchers/catchers reporting and spring and regular season openers) would be in trouble. We’ve blown past a couple of those dates now and... zip. Nothing.

There is zero chance the Cubs are going to play the Dodgers a week from tomorrow at Sloan Park. None, nada, zero. Why won’t MLB tell its customers? It’s really unconscionable to keep your paying customers hanging for this long. To that end, Zach Buchanan and Dan Hayes of The Athletic interviewed some fans about the lockout, the negotiations and their inability to plan any sort of trip to Spring Training and hoo boy, they were not happy:

Many aren’t buying MLB’s arguments about the cost of business. “I cannot hear another billionaire say how hard and how bad it is to buy and own a baseball team,” said [Daniel] Agee, the Cubs fan who battled long-term COVID. Fans mentioned the contraction of the minors, the paltry pay of minor leaguers and the recent proposal to cut the number of minor leaguers each team can roster. “Corporate greed,” said Rawlings, the Rangers fan who trawls the back fields alone. “Cash grabs at every single opportunity,” said Nace, the A’s fan.

[Mary] Teresa, the A’s fan hoping to visit for the first time, expresses the same sentiment even more colorfully. “I’m not surprised this is coming because the greedy are getting even greedier, and the owners are a shitbag of nonsense,” she said. “They’re a bunch of spoiled rich guys who are stomping their feet and going through a bunch of nonsense because they can.”

Others take issue with the league’s negotiating tactics. They’ve noticed that it was the owners who instituted the lockout rather than negotiate while operating under the terms of the previous agreement — which Wilson described as “pulling the dynamite out as the first move” — and that it was the owners who waited more than a month to make a proposal.

I can’t argue with any of that. Neither can longtime sports writer and reporter Keith Olbermann. I know many of you are not fond of Olbermann, but he is spot-on in this Twitter thread, which reviews quite a bit of the history of MLB labor disputes:

Read the entire thread. To make it easier for you, I put the whole thing in a threadreaderapp unroll, which has it all on one page. Olbermann concludes:

Added to this tinderbox of disaster: after a steady decline in its solidarity and strength, the union is pissed off - pissed off at that very perception of weakness; pissed off at the lockout; pissed off at the owners’ profits soaring while theirs are plateauing.

Lastly, the recent history of seasonal interruptions in the major sports is not auspicatory. The NHL locked out the players in 2012 (cost nearly half the season), 2004 (season cancelled), 1994 (nearly half). The NBA locked out the players in 2011 (20% of the season lost)... and 1998 (cost half the season).

The NFL has only locked out its players once, and avoided losing games. MLB hasn’t done it since 1990 - and that was thwarted by an independent commissioner who was fired for his independence. And the owners forced the ‘94 strike in pique.

At this point I would still ask for long odds in my favor, but if I had to pick only one option among all those available, I’d quote Dickens: “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” and predict there won’t be a 2022 season.

You might think that’s crazy talk; you might think owners and players will suddenly realize the damage that’s being done to the sport we all love and sit down and hammer out a deal rightfreakingnow, but I think that’s about as likely as me being named the next manager of the Chicago Cubs.

I’d much rather be watching baseball workouts today, I’d much rather be writing about who the Cubs might still add to the starting rotation for 2022, I’d much rather be planning on going to a Cubs spring game in eight days, than what I’m writing about now and have been for the last several weeks. But right now, the lockout is THE baseball story and I’m going to keep writing about it until it ends.

If it ends. I’m leaning towards Olbermann’s position, I think there is a real chance we lose the entire 2022 MLB season. There’s been no transparency, there’s been no movement, and here we are less than six weeks to what is supposed to be Opening Day of the 2022 season.

Poll

The MLB labor dispute will be settled...

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    ... before March 1, there will be an abbreviated spring training and the season will start on time March 31
    (28 votes)
  • 16%
    ... by mid-March, there will be an abbreviated spring training and a handful of regular season games (fewer than 10) will be lost
    (35 votes)
  • 20%
    ... sometime in April. The regular season, shortened to approximately 120-130 games, begins in mid-May
    (44 votes)
  • 12%
    ... sometime in May. The regular season, shortened to about 100 games, begins in early or mid-June
    (27 votes)
  • 7%
    ... sometime in June. An 81-game regular season starts around July 1
    (16 votes)
  • 6%
    ... sometime in July. A 60-game season, like the 2020 pandemic season, starts around August 1
    (13 votes)
  • 23%
    ... not before the entire 2022 season is cancelled
    (50 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (0 votes)
213 votes total Vote Now