TORONTO – Baseball makes a lot of people happy. In a dark world, delicately navigating the perils of a reckless tyranny in Ukraine, struggling to cope with the lingering complications of COVID-19, drowning in culture wars driven by misinformation, every little joy matters. The daily distraction of nine rounds on pristine pitches against blue skies can be an emotional ritual. There is majesty in watching those 108 points fly.
Longing for simple goodness may be why Major League Baseball’s 99-day lockout, which ended Thursday when players agreed to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement ratified at the unanimity by the owners, has elicited so many visceral reactions.
There’s optimism in coming out of winter and spring training is a symbol of that, even if you’re the Baltimore Orioles. To tear up images of batting practice with palm tree backdrops from fans, especially given today’s global realities when owners already had players largely under their thumb was, frankly, vulgar. Sure, we could be on the brink of World War III, but someone has to rein in Steve Cohen’s spending on the New York Mets.
Moreover, whatever societal ill you are concerned about — the increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands; abusive labor practices; the use of the media to distort reality; unfair pay scales; senseless greed – could be reflected in how the lockdown has gone.
This dynamic made this lockout different for the owners, as did the dramatic change in the discourse around the players. In previous disputes, including the 1994 strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series, owners struggled to portray players as greedy to fans too ready to be appalled by salaries that eclipsed their own for living the dream.
A better understanding of owners’ finances, the lack of a relationship between payroll and ticket prices, the scourge of tanking – made inconsequential in small markets by revenue-sharing bonuses – have been repeatedly exposed these last years.
Some players make a lot of money, but most don’t. And even if they do, it’s simply based on the revenue they help generate. Remember that clubs are looking to sign contracts in which they create added value, highlighting how difficult it can be for players to get a fair share.
While this is good business for the owners, it only fuels an adversarial relationship with their players at every stage – promotion, 0-3 service time salary renewals, arbitration, free agency. When you consider how hard they have had to fight for even basic gains over the game’s history, you can see why there is so much mistrust.
That it all nearly blew up over technicalities on Tuesday — the parties couldn’t decide on a framework to link the international draft to free-agency compensatory draft picks before the 6 p.m. deadline — is both normal and an opportunity for change.
One official, describing the day’s back and forth, said the parties really needed to figure out how best to talk to each other once the ABC was settled. Commissioner Rob Manfred echoed the sentiment after announcing the deal, acknowledging he had “failed” to establish “a good relationship with our players”.
Later he added: “I hope the players will see the effort we have made to address their concerns in this agreement as an olive branch in terms of building a better relationship. We have integrated certain processes in this agreement where we will interact more regularly with the players on topics such as the international draft and rule changes. I think these opportunities for positive interaction help build a better relationship.
That sounds ideal, but only action beyond conciliatory words after the last two weeks of talks have exhausted will demonstrate real change.
The sides reached an agreement after Manfred cut another week from the season on Wednesday night. They re-engaged, decided to resume talks on Thursday morning and agreed to a four-month period to negotiate an international draft which, if implemented, would see the loss of signing picks eliminated. qualified free agents.
This led to the owners presenting a full counter-offer, expected by players a day earlier, which further closed some economic gaps. The players voted in favor of it, including against the recommendation of their sub-executive committee which voted, according to reports from Ken Rosenthal of Athleticism and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, 8-0 against ratification. A 30-0 vote from the owners followed and the offseason was on.
Business has resumed in a new world, in which the Competitive Balance Tax, or CBT, threshold will rise from $210 million last year to $230 million this year, reaching $244 million next year. last year of the agreement. Minimum wages will start at $700,000 and increase by $20,000 per season over the five-year deal. A new $50 million bonus pool will be distributed among 100 pre-arbitration eligible players. A draft lottery covering six picks is intended to deter tanking while draft incentives and service time credits are intended to reduce service time manipulation.
The DH is now universal. The postseason now includes 12 teams, an adjustment that would have been helpful for the Toronto Blue Jays a year ago. Players will sit on a competition committee to review rule changes that can be instituted on an expedited schedule.
“Our union has endured the second longest work stoppage in its history to make meaningful progress in key areas that will not only improve the rights and benefits of current players, but those of generations to come,” the manager said. of the players’ association, Tony Clark, in a press release. “The players remained engaged and unified from start to finish, and in doing so, re-energized our fraternity.”
Whether progress holds or teams manage to exploit new loopholes to limit payroll spending is a key question. We will see if there is a repeat of this lockout in five years.
Manfred tried to play on the more than three months of acrimony as part and parcel of the CBA process, saying the negotiations are “really driven by two things – time and economic leverage.” No deal materializes until these two things play out in a way that finds common ground. MLB’s floating deadlines for a 162-game season, which the players wisely mocked three times, were used “effectively to move the process to specific times when it needed to move.”
He said he called Clark after the ratification and pledged to work together. “It will be a priority for me to try to keep the commitment I made with him on the phone.”
It’s a beginning.
Then there’s the sport’s broader commitment to its devoted fans, those who make the game a daily part of their lives and generate the wealth the industry so often fights for.
Manfred began his comments with an apology, then, noting the even greater situation, added: “There was a lot of uncertainty at a time when there is a lot of uncertainty in the world – much like the process of collective bargaining sometimes works – but I apologize for that.
Qualifying the apology probably wasn’t necessary, but now is not the time to quibble. Baseball is back and it’s time it started making people happy again.