The league’s inability to get a deal done propounds a bad look for the sport
As a cool, 74-degree day loomed over Jupiter, Florida, a clearly-frustrated but seemingly uncaring Rob Manfred took to the stage in front of reporters.
“The calendar dictates that we are not going to be able to play the first two series of the regular season,” he addressed the reporters, the media, and the millions of watching fans. “Those games are officially canceled.”
Being completely numb to the situation, Manfred smiled and laughed on stage — but coming from a Commissioner who called the World Series trophy ‘a piece of metal’, this is hardly a surprise. The cancellation of 91 games appeared to be the culmination of the acrimony built up between the two parties: the players and the owners.
In this situation, a sticky, convoluted mess of disagreements between the team owners and players ensued, a mess whose anticipation was only ticking down as the calendar lingered toward December 2, 2021. On that date, at exactly 12:00 a.m. Eastern, Major League Baseball, as represented by the thirty team owners (who are represented by Rob Manfred, the Commissioner) locked out the players.
What ensued was over two months of naught. What could have been a period of time where progress was made turned into a period of time that was wasted. The owners rejected talks of negotiations and put the situation off until after the holidays. Following that period, the two sides would meet for about fifteen minutes every few days, with virtually zero progress being made. Putting it off until it was too late, they finally began to negotiate within the last ten days, but by then, it was too late.
This entire situation is, of course, on both sides. Both the Players Association and the owners, who again, are represented by Manfred, have continuously failed to reach an agreement, and in turn, have continuously failed to please the consumer: the fan.
The sport is, in essence, shooting itself in the foot. In a statement responding to the Commissioner’s decision to cancel games, the MLBPA said:
“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.”
Let’s not make it out to appear as if one side is to blame for this situation. Perhaps, is one side more to blame than the other? Maybe. But at the end of the day, it is on both parties to come to an agreement, but with the players’ bar being set so high, and the owners’ greed standing in the way, the situation is as fitting as a train whose wheels are too large or small to fit on the rail. In other words, it’s an impasse.
After nearly seventeen hours of negotiating, Manfred and the owners sent the Players Association a so-called “final offer”, which proposed that the minimum player salary be increased from $675,000 to $700,000, and the implementation of a 12-team postseason, as well as a slight $5 million increase for the pre-arbitration bonus pool, but no increase for the CBT thresholds. The MLBPA rejected this offer, leading to Manfred officially delaying the season.
Manfred, notably, has the power to lift the lockout immediately, but will not do so as the players could then strike, similar to what occurred in 1994. Fans will recall that season, which saw the cancellation of 948 games and the entire 1994 World Series. And now, twenty-eight years later, the sport has engaged in its eighth-ever work stoppage, and the fifth to cost games — so far, 91 games have already been canceled, not even including the entire Spring Training season, and further cancellations are bound to come.
As of this point, the first two series of the 2022 regular season have been canceled, and, according to the Commissioner, will not be made up. All games lost will also result in a loss in pay for the players, something the MLBPA has contested. In a statement, union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer said:
“To say they won’t reschedule games if games are canceled or they won’t pay players for those games that are canceled is solely their position. They’re not legally required to take those positions…We would have a different position.”
As the lockout enters its 91st day, currently coinciding with the number of regular-season games already lost (as mentioned, this will almost definitely increase, barring a miracle agreement being reached within the week), it confirms that the 2022 season will, for the third consecutive time, be an anomaly. The 2020 season was shortened to 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 season was ravaged with COVID restrictions, outbreaks and venue capacity limits.
And now, in 2022, the season will once again be shortened. It is unlikely that the season will be outright canceled, but if an agreement is not reached as the days and weeks pass, more and more games will continue to be canceled. Now, the earliest date that Opening Day can commence is April 7, and even that date appears to be in jeopardy.
Clamors over fed-up fans turning their backs on the sport, quitting watching games due to frustration, have arisen during these trying times for baseball. For the older fan, these claims are hardly warranted, for baseball, despite its current rut, will recover. But the younger fan, a member of the demographic MLB has been striving to win over in recent decades, but is arguably faltering in this regard, may not be so forgiving. Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN, put this dilemma well, stating:
When the games eventually return, the power of the sport will overcome the people who run it. Fans will get caught up in the taut pennant races and all the wondrous talents on the field, for the players are the game. But every day of this lockout has exposed a loss. The last several months have reinforced a certain ugliness to the sport. It won’t kill baseball — because the players always save it — but it has made it a little less attractive, watching it a little less given.
While the 2022 lockout may be a horrendous look for MLB and the sport of baseball — and this includes both the players and owners, and especially Rob Manfred — it will recover. With other sports rising in popularity, though, baseball certainly has a plethora of work to accomplish in order to retain its position as one of America’s dominant sports, especially as the interest of the younger demographic wanes.
Baseball has arguably already already lost its title of America’s Game, and what comes next in the sport’s legacy will have to be decided by both the players and owners. May the baseball gods bless the sport with all their might.
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Twitter and on Medium to be informed of new articles.