Major League Baseball (MLB) has cancelled the first two series of games in its 2022 regular season, as efforts to strike a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with players started eating into the competitive schedule.
MLB entered its first lockout in over quarter of a century on December 2 as commissioner Rob Manfred criticised the Players Association’s (MLBPA’s) “strategy of confrontation over compromise” amid a potential threat to Opening Day of the 2022 season.
The sport’s previous CBA expired with the League’s owners immediately deciding to lock out the players after failed talks over a new deal. MLB’s last lockout ran from August 12, 1994 to April 2, 1995, resulting in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
MLB in August announced the master schedule for the 2022 regular season, which was due to open on March 31, with all 30 teams in action. However, talks since December, which have become more intensive in recent days, have failed to come to a resolution, leading to the League’s announcement yesterday (Tuesday).
Cancellation of the first two series for each of the 30 teams has resulted in the loss of 91 games in total. This will likely see each club’s schedule cut from 162 games to 156 at most. In a letter to fans, Manfred said: “I had hoped against hope that I would not have to be in the position of cancelling games. We worked hard to avoid an outcome that is bad for our fans, bad for our players and bad for our clubs.
“I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort on the part of either party. The players came here for nine days, worked hard and tried to make a deal. I appreciate their effort.”
While drafting out offers that the League had made to the MLBPA, Manfred said “compromise after compromise” had been put forward. Players have vented their frustration that payrolls have decreased by 4% from 2015 through 2021, with many teams electing to cut some of their highly-paid veteran players in favour of lower-priced youth.
Manfred added: “So, what is next? The calendar dictates that we are not going to be able to play the first two series of regular season games and those games are officially cancelled. We are prepared to continue negotiations. We have been informed that the MLBPA is headed back to New York meaning that no agreement is possible until at least Thursday. Currently, camps could not meaningfully operate until at least March 8, leaving only 23 days before scheduled Opening Day.
“We played without an agreement in 1994 and the players went on strike in August, forcing the cancellation of the World Series. It was a painful chapter in our game’s history. We cannot risk such an outcome again for our fans and our sport.
“The clubs and our owners fully understand just how important it is to our millions of fans that we get the game on the field as soon as possible. To that end, we want to bargain and we want a deal with the Players Association as quickly as possible.”
Speaking at a news conference, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark maintained his members “remain committed to the bargaining process”. Clark said: “Players want to play; everybody knows that. But the reason we are not playing is simple – a lockout is the ultimate economic weapon.
“In a $10bn (£7.52bn/€9.03bn) industry, the owners have made a conscious decision to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have – the players. But the group won’t be intimidated. I’ve seen more unity over the previous few years than at any time in our recent history.”
MLBPA added in a statement: “Rob Manfred and MLB’s owners have cancelled the start of the season. Players and fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted, but sadly not surprised.
“From the beginning of these negotiations, players’ objectives have been consistent—to promote competition, provide fair compensation for young players, and to uphold the integrity of our market system. Against the backdrop of growing revenues and record profits, we are seeking nothing more than a fair agreement.
“What Rob Manfred characterised as a ‘defensive lockout’ is, in fact, the culmination of a decades-long attempt by owners to break our player fraternity. As in the past, this effort will fail. We are united and committed to negotiating a fair deal that will improve the sport for players, fans and everyone who loves our game.”
Image: Erin Doering on Unsplash