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March 10, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Baseball lockout ends; 2022 season is salvaged

The owners of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association finally reached an agreement today, paving the way for spring training to begin right away -- over a month later than it was supposed to commence. What seemed to bring about a compromise (according to the Washington Post, at least) was a shift in public sentiment against the wretchedly greedy billionaire owners and in favor of the players -- many of whom happen to be filthy rich millionaires.

This means that the regular season will begin on April 7, one week later than the originally scheduled Opening Day of March 31. Contrary to what was announced yesterday (when MLB announced a second week of cancelled games), they plan to squeeze the regular season in such a way that the regular season will wrap up on Sunday, October 2. For example, the Washington Nationals will have only one day of rest in April after Opening Day, and just three each in most subsequent months.

The lockout began in early December (see my Dec. 24 blog post), and very little negotiating took place for the first couple months. As spring training was supposed to begin in mid-February, discussions heated up, but neither side seemed willing to change its position very much. On March 1, MLB announced that the March 31 Opening Day was being canceled, along with the first two series of the season -- a whole week, basically. Further talks didn't last very long, and both sides accused each other of bad faith. It really looked ugly, and it seemed quite possible that several weeks or more of baseball would be lost. Another apocalypse on the order of 1994 would have cost both sides billions of dollars, and finally leading figures on both sides came to their senses.

So what took them so long? Most accounts I have read focus on the myriad technical issues involving compensation and playing conditions, but it's really a fundamental structural problem. Let us first stipulate clearly that major league baseball is a business, and that in a free enterprise system, the owners are (or would be) entitled to maximize their profits. In an ordinary competitive bargaining situation there are a range of terms that might be more or less acceptable to either side, making it possible to gradually narrow the differences and reach a compromise. But modern baseball is not like that. Both sides are constrained to refuse backing down from the positions they have staked out, primarily because (in my view) the massive public subsidies via stadium financing, etc. multiply the leverage that each side (players vs. owners) can get from each additional dollar of revenue generated from the games.

To understand this situation in graphical terms, try to visualize a big, round bump in a road upon which the two sides are vying for an advantageous balance vis-a-vis each other, and then imagine that the bump has been raised three or four times vertically, while remaining the same lateral width. The bigger the subsidies, the higher the figurative "bump," and the more likely it is that the two sides will fall off (i.e., precipitate a strike or lockout) while trying to get just a little bit better of a deal. Get rid of the structural distortions that reward risky behavior contrary to the public interest, and the likelihood of a constructive resolution of labor disputes will be greatly enhanced.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a boost to the rookies' minimum salary from $570,000 to $700,000, as well as slightly enhanced arbitration privileges for younger players. For fans, there are some positives such as no more automatic runner on second base in extra innings, and no more seven-inning double-header games. On the down side, the National League will adopt the Designated Hitter rule, which has been in use by the American League since 1973. No more strategizing by managers; that's a real shame. Other changes will be announced soon, and we won't have much time to get used to them...

Interestingly, former Nats ace Max Scherzer (now with the Mets) played a key role in the negotiations, along with MLBPA chief Tony Clark. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred barely saved his career in baseball. Based on what I have observed, he has not been willing to step on the toes of the more recalcitrant owners to force the issue. What baseball needs more than anything else right now is a strong commissioner with the stature of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Bowie Kuhn, or Bart Giamatti. (See the Annual Baseball Chronology page.)

This was the second-longest work stoppage in MLB history, second only to the infamous 1994-1995 strike by the MLBPA. For broader context, here is a list of all such work stoppages, from Sunday's Washington Post.

Year(s) Months(s) Issues Outcome
1972 April Strike over pension & arbitration. 86 games canceled.
1973 Feb. Lockout over arbitration No games missed.
1976 Mar. Lockout over reserve clause. No games missed
1980 Mar. Strike over free agency, etc. Temporary deal; no games missed.
1981 June-Aug. Strike over free agency, etc. 713 games canceled; split-season playoffs.
1985 Aug. Strike (2 days) over arbitration & pension. All but 2 of 25 missed games made up.
1990 Feb.-Mar. Strike over arbitration & free agency. Opening Day postponed one week.
1994-1995 Aug.-Mar. Strike, refusing proposed salary cap. 948 games canceled, incl. 1994 postseason.
2021-2022 Dec.-Mar. Lockout, refusing compensation overhaul. Rule changes; all games rescheduled.

Zimmerman retires frown

Three weeks ago, Washington National star infielder Ryan Zimmerman announced his retirement. I'll have much more to say on this tomorrow.

Camden Yards grows!

Yes, I know. Stay tuned...

Yankee Stadium update?

Yes, I updated the Yankee Stadium (the real one) diagrams in late December, in a mad rush to get all my diagrams finished by the end of the year, but all of a sudden I got so busy with my normal (?) work life that I just didn't have time to properly explain it. Because the page itself (i.e., the text) was not updated, however, you can see some glaring contrasts between the old (2009) and new versions of those diagrams. Stay tuned for much more!

Another hiatus

My apologies for the regrettable two-month hiatus. For the record, I was not boycotting to protest the failure of the two sides to reach a compromise, but I'll admit that I thought about it. I was really getting angry. While other people are enjoying spring break on the sunny beaches of Florida, I am getting caught up on some of the more important things in life such as baseball ... and war. frown

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 11 Mar 2022, 1: 41 AM

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