Home Illustration MLB lockdown cancels games, baseball continues to fade

MLB lockdown cancels games, baseball continues to fade


JUPITER, Fla. — A light breeze tickled the palm trees. The late afternoon light of what photographers call “the golden hour” invited daydreaming. A virgin field where the Mets were to face the Marlins was empty. A tableau that should have been idyllic instead of feeling poignant and of loss.

On the left field corner of the Marlins ballpark here, in a hall that should have been full of sunburned fans and families leaving with smiles and memories of a day at the ballpark, the commissioner of the Major League Baseball’s Rob Manfred announced the cancellation of the now tainted first week of games of the 2022 season. And with that, which was exactly the kind of day baseball should have, the sport rushed deeper into danger.

If you think this work stoppage might be short-lived, you didn’t pay attention to the gaps between owners and players on Tuesday, throughout nine days of negotiations, and really since the ink dried after signing of the last collective agreement in 2016.

There’s no baseball today because of a labor dispute at a company that generates $11 billion in revenue. In truth, this day has lasted five years, since the players sniffed out the last collective bargaining agreement while focusing on comfort rather than economy. Their error was compounded when McKinsey’s data-smart front offices relied on baseball with brutal efficiency that squeezed every dollar and spawned a risk-free game that plays slower than ever.

COVID in 2020 has accelerated a disconnect between players and owners. In the midst of a global pandemic, they fought in disgust over when to play their little game, setting a three-year streak in which they couldn’t agree on anything. Resentment builds up.

The 60-game season also retrained baseball brains. The sanctity of the 162-game season has been diminished. The salary and even playoffs from a truncated season were rewarding enough that losing games was no longer such a scary thought on either side.

In the mockingly beautiful ending, an air of inevitability hung over Jupiter. Players and owners saw their extremely rich kingdom with different perspectives. Players have seen a sport whose incomes rise and wages return to their lowest level since 2015 and have fought back to be disrupted. The owners relied on one of their favorite saws, competitive balance, and fought to maintain the status quo as much as they could.

APSTEIN: MLB owners don’t realize their own madness

It had to come to this, especially as evidenced by the death of the last breath of hope. The owners tried late into Monday night to strike a deal, while the players asked for time the following morning to solicit their representatives. The Tuesday morning Zoom call with player reps took 2.5 hours, and suddenly the fishing line snapped on what the owners thought was a close-at-hand deal.

“It suddenly changed,” an MLB source said. “It was back to playing Whack-a-mole.”

It turned out that the two sides were never close, especially on the competitive balance tax. There are many causes that can be listed when doing the autopsy to find out why a chord died but CBT is the leading cause of death. The two sides weren’t close in math or concept.

On several occasions, Manfred, during his eulogy, referred to CBT as the “only mechanism” for landlords to address wage disparities and competitive balance. This is a tax levied on clubs with large payrolls to slow down their spending. Without it, or with a threshold not high enough, according to the owners, teams such as the Dodgers, Yankees and now the Mets would be ridiculously ahead of the Rockies, Rays and Marlins of the world. Over the past two CBAs, CBT hasn’t increased at all in 2012 and 3% in 2016. Owners have asked for a 5% increase this time, “in a straight line,” Manfred said, with recent agreements.

Tuesday noon, after their Zoom session, the players presented a package that asked for a threshold that started at $238 million and capped at $263 million, slightly down from their range of $245 million to $273 million. dollars. The first-year threshold in the new proposal represented a 13% increase.

The owners were amazed. They saw the progressive movement of the players as a punch in the eye. The owners came back with a final offer in which their first CBT threshold did not change. It remained at $220 million. It was the time when the season, as we knew it, was lost.

The owners are now “trying to use CBT as a salary cap,” a source close to the union said. “Rob agreed not to use CBT for this purpose in 2002.”

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The shame is that the owners have addressed important criteria for players, such as getting more money for young players, such as the largest increase in minimum wage (up to $129,500 to $700,000) and the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players (although the gap between the two sides, as in CBT, was huge). The owners gave in to their 14-team postseason proposal to accept a worse player proposal for 12 teams.

But in the end, nothing seemed more out of place than making no move on CBT in their final offer. Low-income teams felt they were taking it on the chin in the proposed deal (minimums, no draft pick compensation on free agents, a draft lottery, etc.) and they weren’t going to let Manfred pushing the CBT higher.

“When you look at the very important last number,” the union source said, referring to the year the deal came out, the difference is huge: $228 million to $263 million. A discrepancy like that makes you wonder how close they could have been to closing a deal on Monday night.

This discrepancy is also worrying. The game has receded in American consciousness because of the product on the field. Baseball continues to give fans less action over more time, a recipe irrelevant in today’s multi-screen world. Time out in a game since Manfred became commissioner in 2015 has increased by 17%. It’s not all up to him. Players keep saying they don’t want to be told to hurry up, blindly slowing their own path to oblivion.

Tuesday’s break has a very small ray of light. Manfred will almost certainly put in place a pitch clock and a ban on defensive changes in 2023, as is his prerogative. He wanted an agreement with the players on the pace of play, but like almost everything else could never come to a true partnership. The game will change. It may be too late.

In the meantime, baseball continues to fade. They have already squandered the charm and beauty of spring training. Gone is the symbolic importance of Opening Day, which was once a secular holiday celebrating not only sport, but also the arrival of spring and the disappearance of parkas and short days. Soon there will be match after match, series after series, while the toxic fumes of these social negotiations, such as they are in the days and weeks to come, denigrate the sport.

There have been work stoppages in baseball before, but not in 27 years and never has the sport been in a more weakened position to resist them than it is now. This day, as beautiful as it should have been, smelt of loss. Deep and disturbing loss.

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