The owners of Major League Baseball (MLB) teams locked out 1,200 professional baseball players after the collective agreement expired at midnight on Wednesday. Less than two hours before that deadline, owners unanimously voted to lock out players, causing the first work stoppage since the 1994-95 players’ strike.
Baseball owners are representatives of the American financial aristocracy. Twenty-three of its 30 owners are billionaires, with the remaining seven each worth several hundred million dollars. Driven by the continued rise in television revenues and skyrocketing ticket prices for new, state-of-the-art stadiums largely publicly funded, MLB revenues hit a record $ 10.7 billion in 2019, the last year before the coronavirus pandemic.
The main issue in this dispute centers on attempts to alter free will and compensation, and ways to promote more competitiveness in the league. As part of recent negotiations, the players’ union, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), proposed changes that included free will after five years of service (instead of six), wage arbitration earlier in player careers and an increase in the luxury tax threshold, so that the big teams in the market can spend more on player salaries without penalties.
The model baseball had used for decades was that during the first three years of a player’s career, a team could unilaterally dictate a player’s salary. Over the next three years, a player would get arbitration rights and an arbitrator would resolve any difference between what a player wants to win and what an owner is willing to pay. Then, after six years, a player would become a free agent, with the league’s most veteran players able to secure contracts worth tens of millions or, in some cases, hundreds of millions over several years. .
While the free agency system has led to substantial increases in average wages since its introduction in 1975, extreme levels of inequality exist within the lists. The average major-league career now lasts three to four years, which means most will never even reach free agency status. Of the players on last season’s opening rosters, 46% earned less than $ 1 million, with 35% under $ 600,000, according to a Associated press salary survey. The minimum wage last season was $ 570,500.
In the minor league system, thousands more each year earn subpoverty salaries of between $ 8,000 and $ 14,000 in the hopes of someday earning a spot on a major league team, but only around 10 percent of minor leagues end up playing even one game. in the majors. In September, ESPN published an article about the devastating mental health impact these impossible financial hardships have on minor league players.
In this age of analysis, teams have learned that it is smarter to pay players for what they are supposed to do rather than for what they have done, and therefore the younger player and the younger player. cheaper is priority. Players are often released before they can go through salary arbitration three times, and when non-elite players come into free agency, they may find a minor league contract just as likely as a multi-year contract.
Owners of less competitive teams have also used the strategy of “tanking” to trade and sell their best players, who are generally older, to resupply with younger and cheaper players, and build a more competitive team in the near future. with higher draft picks for a lot less money. Under the franchise system used by American professional sports but rare anywhere else in the world, the worst teams not only retain their places in the league the following season, but secure the first pickets in the entry draft the following year.
Under the current system, teams with the worst records get higher draft picks. As Sports news âThe way the system is set up now, the owners get two huge benefits from the terrible team roster: 1. They are pocketing money that they could / should spend to keep / bring in better players. 2. They collect high draft picks every year they’re awful.
In 2021, the publication reported that six teams lost at least 95 games over a 162-game regular season, with a low of 110 losses each by the Orioles and Diamondbacks. In 2019, four teams lost at least 103 games and six others lost more than 90. In 2018, eight teams lost at least 95 games, “led” by the Orioles, for 115 losses. It’s close to the worst record in modern MLB history set by the then-expanding New York Mets in 1962 when they lost 120 games.
Players insist that to correct these disparities there should be a lottery-type draft that will not reward teams with the worst records. They also want players to be paid earlier in their careers by giving them earlier access to salary arbitration and free agency.
Since collective agreements were first negotiated in the late 1960s, they have been structured to expire during the off-season. Initially, owners blocked players frequently, with lockouts occurring in 1973, 1976, and 1990. Players also held four strikes in 1972, 1980, 1981 and 1994-1995.
The 1994-1995 strike, which also revolved around owners’ attempts to limit free will, was the longest in professional sports history, lasting 232 days. During this strike, 948 games were canceled in the 1994 season and the first 18 games in the 1995 season. Finally, various court and arbitration decisions reimposed the old collective agreement until a other agreement can be negotiated.
For the past 30 years, Major League Baseball has been played without a lockout or strike. Today, however, its owners and players are swayed by the same economic tensions and pressures, including the global pandemic, that are affecting workers in this country and around the world and have led to a wave of massive strikes.
In the last ten days before the lockdown, contrary to their claims of economic hardship over contract negotiations, many of those same owners were able to raise more than $ 1 billion to sign nine players.
The owners, by instituting a lockout now, can do so without risking losing a game since the season doesn’t start until the end of March, and at the same time put pressure on unsigned players and free agents who are now banned. to negotiate or sign new contracts during the lockout, as well as to try to create a wedge between the highest paid and the lowest paid players.
One of the best representatives of the players, however, is Max Scherzer, one of baseball’s top pitchers, who just a few days ago signed a three-year, $ 130 million contract with the New York Mets. .
Scherzer, in response to the lockout, said that over the past five years the union has raised money to overcome the labor dispute. âWe have a pretty good war chest behind us of money that we can allocate to the players. The best case is not to exploit it. Obviously hopefully we get a deal at some point, but just know that as players we have a strong belief in how we view the game. “