MLBPA Should’ve Gone On Strike During 2021 Season
This baseball offseason is a bit of history. It marks the first time there is a labor shutdown of the sport because of a lockout and not because of a strike. The last time the players had actually gone on strike was during the 1994 season.
You could say much of that strike is still impacting the sport to this very day. The Montreal Expos were the best team in baseball, and they never had an opportunity to win the World Series. Instead, they would be stripped for parts, and eventually, they would be moved to Washington D.C.
The steroid era was also a fallout from that strike. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went to heroes and saviors of the game to vilified. It’s telling that neither player has garnered the 75% required for Hall of Fame induction while we are about to see David Ortiz become a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Despite that strike and the fallout, the game has grown since that time. While that strike led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, it did not mean the players wouldn’t use the strike as leverage in future negotiations. In fact, the players again used the threat during the 2002 season.
Make no mistake, nothing would have ever been as seen as so tone deaf as to striking after 9/11. No one, and I repeat no one, had any stomach for players striking over what was at least publicly portrayed as players being resistant to PED testing. All of the good will of the Mike Piazza homer, Bobby Valentine‘s work at Shea Stadium, and really what all of Major League Baseball did after the attacks would have been erased entirely.
However, the MLBPA used it as a tool because their main interest is bargaining for the best possible deal for their constituents. Certainly, the threat in 2002 came off as tone deaf, and perhaps, the players were bolstered by the way the game recovered post-1994. Regardless, the MLBPA did what they needed to do.
From there, MLB and the MLBPA had labor peace. There were four consecutive collective bargaining agreements reached before the threat of a strike or lockout was deemed necessary by either side. However, in all of that, there were two important agreements which were reached, which truly hamper the game and the negotiations to this day.
The first is the owners never relented on service time manipulation or the start of free agency. The second, and oft overlooked, is in the famed 2002 agreement. In that agreement, the CBA term end date was moved from October 31 to December. It has remained since, and it has had an impact on the leverage when it comes to strikes or lock outs.
Eventually, there was going to come a point and time where that date was going to prevent the players from considering a strike and for the owners of using the lockout tactic. That happens to be this offseason.
Of course, this is only part of it. There is Tony Clark‘s failures in previous negotiations, and there is also Rob Manfred’s tone deafness. Certainly, Manfred has shown a willful disregard for growing the game, and really, he only sees baseball as a zero sum game to get as much money for the owners as possible. After all, this is the same commissioner who took baseball out of communities and contracted minor league teams because minor leaguers had the gaul to ask for a living wage.
Now, we see Manfred and the owners not wanting to relent on service time manipulation or free agency. They have never done so, and now, they have stuck their feet firmly in the ground while this is actually the biggest issue for the players. The thing is the owners have all of the leverage right now.
WIth the lockout, the owners can skip revenue losers like Spring Training, and the first month of the season which typically has lower attendance. They can really hold out until the weather warms while many players who need money are without a paycheck. At some point, they may also use the tactic of using minor league players to start the season.
Of course, the players could have threatened a strike to co-opt some leverage. The postseason remains a massive profit for the owners, and threatening that could have gotten the players some leverage on their issues. Instead, Clark had them play the full season, the postseason, and right into the owner’s hands. It’s not the first time he’s done that, and it probably won’t be the last.
For the moment, all we can see is no baseball until the players capitulate. Twenty years ago, this never would have happened. The players would go so far as to miss out on the World Series to ensure that wouldn’t happen. Now, well, they don’t see to have the same leadership or will to fight they once had for what is best for them or the game.