Friday, January 28, 2022

MLB owners block players, first shutdown since 1995

RONALD BLUM and STEPHEN Hawkins

IRVING, TX (AP) – Major league baseball went out of business for the first time in a quarter century when the collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night and owners immediately blocked players, threatening spring training and opening day.

This strategy, the equivalent of a management strike under federal labor law, ended the work calmness in sports after 9,740 days in 26 1/2 years.

The teams decided to force the long-awaited confrontation in the offseason, rather than risk players leaving in the summer, as they did in 1994. Players and owners had successfully reached four consecutive agreements without a work stoppage, but they were gradually heading towards collision. more than two years.

“We believe the offseason lockout is the best defense mechanism for the 2022 season,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. “We hope that the lockout will trigger negotiations and lead us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive shutout was necessary because the Association’s vision of Major League Baseball players compromised the ability of most teams to be competitive. ”

Negotiations, which began last spring, ended on Wednesday after a short session lasting a few minutes, when the parties parted ways on dozens of key economic issues. Management representatives left the union hotel about nine hours before the deal expired at 11:59 pm ET, and players said MLB did not make any new central economic proposals this week.

MLB’s 30 controlling owners held a short digital meeting to confirm their lockout decision, and MLB, in an email to the Major League Baseball Association, announced its fourth-ever lockout, accompanied by five strikes.

“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the determination of the players to enter into a fair contract,” said union chief Tony Clarke in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that will increase competition, improve the product for our fans, and advance the rights and benefits of our membership.”

The halt began 30 days after the Atlanta World Series win ended the entire season after a pandemic-cut 2020 played on empty pitches.

The immediate consequences of the lockout were an MLB memo to clubs freezing contract signing, the cancellation of next week’s annual winter meetings in Orlando, Florida, and the expulsion of players from team training facilities and gyms, possibly resulting in lower ticket sales for 2022.

The union has demanded change in the wake of anger over lower wages, middle-class players ousted by teams focusing payroll on the rich, and veterans fired in favor of low-paid youth, especially among clubs who are tearing down their lists to recover.

“As players, we see this as a serious problem,” New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said of the 2016 deal. “First and foremost, we see the problem of competition and how teams behave due to certain rules that are within it, and therefore adjustments need to be made to bring competition to light.”

Eleven weeks remain before the pitchers and catchers are due to show up for spring training on February 16, and about 70 days are left to agree on a timely start. Opening day is set for March 31, and in the past it has required at least three weeks of organized training.

Management, in an effort to maintain the wage restrictions imposed in recent decades, rejected union requests for what teams saw as significant changes to the sport’s economic structure, including reduced service times required for free agency and wage arbitration.

“We have proposed a minimum wage for all clubs meeting for the first time in baseball history; allow the majority of players to access the free agency early through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of manipulation of service times; and increase compensation for all young players, ”wrote Manfred. “When the negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to create one by proposing to adopt a universal designated hitter to create a new draft system using a lottery similar to other leagues.”

Many clubs have struggled to add players ahead of the lockout and anticipated signing moratorium, pledging more than $ 1.9 billion in new deals, including a one-day record of over $ 1.4 billion on Wednesday.

“It felt like at least certain free agent groups were moving faster in the past few days,” said Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington.

Two of the eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee signed major deals: Texas fielder Marcus Semien ($ 175 million) and Scherzer ($ 130 million).

“It’s really fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game, and seeing everyone sign up right now, really seeing teams compete in such a timely manner, it’s great because we’ve seen freezes in the last few off-seasons.”

No player remains active after the 232-day strike that interrupted the 1994 season, led to the first World Series cancellation in 90 years, and delayed the start of the 1995 season. That halt only ended when a federal judge – future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor – issued an injunction, forcing the owners to reinstate the rules of work under an expired employment contract.

Average wages fell from $ 1.17 million before the strike to $ 1.11 million, but then resumed their seemingly inexorable rise. It peaked at just under $ 4.1 million in 2017, the first season of the last CBA, but is likely to drop to around $ 3.7 million when this year’s final numbers are calculated.

This money is mainly concentrated at the top of the wage structure. Among the roughly 1,955 players who signed to major leagues at any time during the last month of the regular season, 112 have earned $ 10 million or more this year as of August 31, of which 40 have earned at least $ 20 million, including a prorated share of subscriptions. bonuses. …

There were 1,397 players with less than $ 1 million in income, of which 1,271 were under $ 600,000 and 332 were under $ 100,000, a group of younger players running back and forth with minors.

The union said in a statement that the lockout “was specifically designed to force players to give up their rights and benefits and reject fair bargaining offers that would benefit not only the players, but the game and the industry as a whole. … We have been here before, and the players have come back to this occasion again and again – guided by the solidarity that has developed from generation to generation. ”

The union withholds license money, as is usually the case in negotiations; cash, US Treasury securities and investments were $ 178.5 million as of December 31, according to a financial disclosure form filed with the US Department of Labor.

Some players’ agents have suggested that management’s credit lines may already be under pressure from the revenue deprivation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but club finances are more opaque to the public than union finances, making it difficult to determine comparative financial soundness to withstand long-term employment. stop.

Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as Commissioner in 2015 after serving a quarter century in MLB labor negotiations. He was unusually critical publicly of the union’s position.

“They have never collectively given up on the most extreme set of offerings in their history,” he said, “including a significant reduction in the revenue sharing system, an easing of the competitive balance tax, and a reduction in the amount of time players play for their teams. All these changes will make our game less competitive. ”

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Bloom reported from New York and Hawkins from Irving, Texas.

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AP Sports Review writer Will Graves contributed to this report.

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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