Given the contentious history of Major League Baseball labor disputes, when the owners made the determination to institute a lockout of the players at midnight on Dec. 2, 2021, when the league’s collective bargaining agreement expired the previous day, halting all business including the signing of free agents, the ominous signal that the start of the 2022 season could be postponed was glaring.
Unable to reach a deal by this past Tuesday’s 5 p.m. mutually accepted deadline between the pertinent parties, the seemingly inevitable became official. Opening Day, originally scheduled for March 31, has been shelved. Spring training, which was set to start Feb. 26, already has been delayed.
“I had hoped against hope that I would not have to have this particular press conference in which I am going to cancel some regular season games,” said MLB Commissioner Rob D. Manfred Jr. on Tuesday evening addressing the media at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, site of the negotiations.
“We worked hard to avoid an outcome that’s bad for our fans, bad for our players, and bad for our clubs. I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party. The players came here for nine days and worked hard, they tried to make a deal and I appreciate their effort.”
Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, also expressed his disappointment with the outcome of the talks.
“Today is a sad day as a former player, as a fan; for our game, today is a sad day,” he lamented. “We came to Florida to navigate or negotiate for a fair collective bargaining agreement. Despite meeting daily while here in Florida there’s still work that needs to be done. We are seeking improvements to our CBA because significant improvements are needed.
“We’ve made no mistake,” Clark expounded, “about that fact over the course of the last three or four years based on what we’ve seen on the field and off the field…But the reason we are not playing is simple. A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon…In a $10 billion industry the owners have made a conscious decision to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have—the players.”
The players are seeking several changes, most significantly an increase in the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which essentially serves as a de facto salary cap, that would begin at $220 million per season and escalate in later years of the agreement, a minimum salary of $700,000, and reconfigured service time provisions, allowing players to reach free-agency sooner than the previous CBA afforded.
There have been nine strikes and lockouts in MLB history, the first in 1972 and then before the current impasse in the 1994-’95 season as well in which 938 games and the entire postseason was canceled. Each labor conflict left deep scars on the sport.
Clark encapsulated baseball’s dire state of affairs, a game in critical need of growing its appeal to a younger fan base that over the past four decades has lost a substantial portion of the under 50 years old market share to the NFL and NBA.
“The game that a lot of baseball fans have grown up knowing has changed,” asserted Clark, who played first base for the Mets and Yankees in 2003 and 2004 respectively. “The value inherent, and how players are respected and viewed has changed. Players have been commoditized in a way that is really hard to explain.
“The game has continued to be damaged and is again damaged today as a result of a lockout that was started by the league…”