Spring training games have been canceled, and Opening Day 2022 has been canceled as Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. For the first time since 1995, baseball will miss games due to a lockout. As is the case in any labor dispute, both sides see the situation differently.
“Today is a sad day. We came to Florida to navigate and negotiate for a fair collective bargaining agreement. Despite meeting daily, there is still significant work to be done,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said Tuesday. “The reason we are not playing is simple: a lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. In a $10 billion dollar industry, the owners have decided to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have: the players.”
Labor and management have been at odds in the MLB for the past 60 years. At every turn the owners and league’s goal is to crush the players. Increase revenues and profits on their end while sharing as little as they can with the labor (read: players).
“We worked hard to avoid an outcome that is bad for our fans, bad for our players and bad for our clubs,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred at a news conference in Jupiter, Florida, where the negotiations were taking place. “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.”
When Tony Clark took over the MLB Players Association in 2013 he became the first former player to be head of the union. This was the start of a different era for the union, one that was for players run by players. That Clark, a Black man, was able to sell that vision to a predominantly white membership is a testament to who he is as a leader and communicator.
Clark’s first CBA negotiation didn’t go well and was seen as a victory for the owners. But in the years since he has gone all across the league educating players and building consensus of how they were going to handle the fight they’re in now. There is a level of unity with this current group of players that suggests they will do whatever it takes to get what they deserve.
At the heart of the MLB lockout is what is happening in the labor force in America more broadly. Revenue and profits have risen dramatically over the last four years and during that same time period team payrolls have gone down. In other words, as the game has generated more dollars, the people most responsible for that growth have seen their share of the dollars decrease.
There is a new type of owner taking over the sports world. They are billionaires who earned their wealth in the financial markets, running private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds. They are beholden to analytical models and run teams as though they are Fortune 500 companies.
There are pluses and minuses to that approach. But what often gets lost in the maximizing profit and eliminating waste, is the whole point of the endeavor of sports. To win games and compete for championships.
Owners want to manipulate service time, not pay long-term contracts, not field a competitive team if it’s in their financial interest to do so. They want to add more playoff teams for the sole purpose of increasing their profits.
Tony Clark has educated and unified the entire labor force on what they are fighting for. Yes, it’s partly about money. But it’s also about the essence and future of the game these players love. He is delivering an effective message and he’s a respected messenger.
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