On Dec. 3, 2021, Major League Baseball (MLB) instituted a lockout of its players after its Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the player’s union expired two days earlier. Now, with spring training rapidly approaching and regular-season games at risk of being postponed or canceled due to the lack of an agreement, tensions are riding high between the two sides. Make no mistake, though, the current situation’s blame lies with the owners.
It’s important to understand that a CBA’s expiration does not automatically force the institution of a lockout. The owners voted to initiate one in the hopes of putting additional pressure on the players association to get a deal done. During a lockout, players don’t have access to team facilities or the ability to sign new contracts and confer with team doctors. MLB also hoped to avoid a situation similar to the 1994-1995 season, when the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and MLB entered the season without agreeing on a CBA. This eventually led to a strike by the players, which led to the cancellation of the rest of the season and playoffs.
Once this current lockout began, MLB waited until Jan. 13 to make its first proposal and begin negotiations. The last CBA is widely seen to be more favorable towards the owners and less so towards the players. This dynamic means that in this year’s negotiations, players are trying to make up ground on a gap between player salaries and revenue that has only been growing. Between the 2015 and 2019 seasons, the league increased its annual revenue by $1 billion; however, the median player salary has actually decreased.
This gap is especially prevalent among younger players whom teams can control for up to the first seven years of their career—before being able to elect free agency, sign another team and receive proportional compensation for their production. During the negotiation process, players have reportedly been willing to make certain concessions, such as expanding the number of playoff teams each year and allowing advertisements on team uniforms. Both of these concessions would help increase revenue for teams. On the other hand, the owners have refused to budge on the players’ requested financial compromises.
This dynamic might not be as apparent due to anti-labor reporting. On Feb. 4, the Associated Press tweeted a link to their article on the same subject, with the caption stating, “[b]y rejecting Major League Baseball’s request for a federal mediator to join stalled labor talks, locked-out players pretty much eliminated any chase for spring training to start on time and raised fresh concerns about opening day.” The article refers to the players’ rejection of an MLB previous day’s request for the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in negotiations over the league’s ongoing lockout.
Fortunately, this marks the first time a major North American sport has endured a lockout in the social media age. The last major lockout happened in the 2011-2012 season in the NBA. This has allowed many players to break through the misleading narratives and publicly share their own perspectives. Additionally, the new platform has given players a chance to display a united front as they demand a fair deal.
Therefore, if the organizations can’t reach a unanimous agreement soon,—to avoid delayed spring training and fewer regular-season games—remember the greedy owners are responsible.