Illustration by Sofia Reeves

MLB lockout perseveres as spring season approaches

Major League Baseball (MLB) fans may have to wait longer than expected for the 2022 season, as team owners and the players union remain deadlocked in tense labor negotiations that have gone unresolved for months. Based on the two sides’ latest meeting, a delay to spring training looks increasingly likely, which also puts Opening Day (March 31) and the start of the regular season in jeopardy.

The conflict started in August 2021, when the MLB team owners and the players association began negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), a legal agreement between the two groups setting the league’s rules of employment and financial structure. Chicago Cubs outfielder and players’ union representative Ian Happ told 670 The Score that the league “didn’t make one economic proposal” during negotiations over a three-day period in Dallas. Happ called it a “horrible way to negotiate.”

As a result of the failed negotiations, MLB owners voted to institute a lockout ahead of the 2022 season. An MLB lockout essentially halts all business relating to professional baseball in the United States. All transactions are frozen, meaning teams cannot sign or trade players, conduct practice or games or pay players their base salary. As a result, top free agents such as Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant and Freddie Freeman all remain unsigned. While owners claimed that such a measure was intended to move negotiations forward, the players union recently released a statement detailing their frustration.

“It is not required by law or for any other reason,” the union’s statement reads. “It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure Players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just Players, but the game and industry as a whole.”

Critics have inaccurately described this lockout as nothing more than the quarrellings of multi-millionaire MLB players and multi-billionaire owners, each looking to maximize the share of league revenue going into their pockets. However, the players union also represents minor league players, who consistently earn below-poverty wages and are among the most impoverished professional athletes in North America. 

In 2019, the average Single A player at baseball’s lowest tier took home just $6,000. Double A and Triple A players earned similarly low wages, taking home around $9,500 and $15,000 respectively. Many players work hard at these rates for years, holding two or three jobs and spend large chunks of the year living in motels without stable housing, only to reach the MLB’s highest level and not have enough years of health left to earn their fair share in order to compete for a shot on the roster. The players union says the time for change is now. 

While the top players in the world earn several hundred million dollars in largely guaranteed contracts, the players union has made it clear that this lockout is about the players trying to keep their dream of playing in the big leagues alive.

With spring training just around the corner, the chances of the MLB season proceeding as planned are remote. 2021 was a year of needed growth for professional baseball, as revenue increased and younger generations of fans took an unprecedented interest in the sport. Many, however, are worried about growth in the upcoming season. Players need weeks to get in shape to play 162 games, and teams also need time to prepare their stadiums for fans and get employees back to work. At this point, many are making comparisons to the 1994-1995 MLB season, which was fully canceled due to a lockout that ended only after the intervention of federal judge Sonia Sotomayor, who  ruled that owners had engaged in exploitative labor practices. 

MLB baseball fans around the world hope the owners and players union can end this impasse hastily, so that America’s favorite pastime can deliver another memorable season.

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