Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Login
BROWSE
Bloomberg Law
Welcome
Login
Advanced Search Go
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Labor Dispute Upends MLB Season: Baseball Lockout Explained (1)

March 1, 2022, 8:11 PMUpdated: March 1, 2022, 11:40 PM

Major League Baseball’s 2022 season is delayed after the players’ union failed to reach an 11th-hour deal with team owners.

The league on Tuesday canceled Opening Day and the first two series set to begin at the end of the month, raising more questions about the sustainability of baseball’s labor model. At its core, the MLB lockout isn’t much different than other labor disputes, with workers and management fighting over compensation and the long-term health of the business venture. But some specifics of what’s on the table are complicated and unique to baseball.

One thing is certain: Owners and players have millions at stake in the short term, and risk damaging the fan base if they can’t come to an agreement.

1. What are they fighting over?

It started in December when the MLB locked out the players—management’s version of a strike—over a collective bargaining disagreement with the MLB Players Association. Among the many points of contention, players wanted to get rid of the six-year waiting period for free agency, which they said made it increasingly hard for younger players to earn as much as older players over the course of their career. The league has said that scrapping the waiting period would make it impossible for teams to afford their rosters. The players rejected MLB’s final offer Tuesday afternoon.

This late in the bargaining, there’s no single issue keeping the parties apart but plenty of distrust on both sides. Over the last 24 hours, they had discussed raising the minimum salary over the five-year contract. There’s disagreement on the “luxury tax” designed to narrow the gap between rich and poor teams, which players say acts as a salary cap and puts downward pressure on players’ pay across the league. They’ve also talked about adjusting the pool of bonuses available for younger players who aren’t eligible for salary arbitration.

2. How long could it delay the season?

Hard to say, but potentially months if the two sides can’t agree.

This is the ninth work stoppage in baseball history, and some of the previous ones have been ugly. The 1994 World Series, along with the rest of the postseason and some of the regular season, was canceled due to a strike over a proposed salary cap. It had dire consequences for teams such as the Montreal Expos, who subsequently sank in the standings and were sold a few years later.

3. Who has more to lose?

Club owners and players will both take a financial hit. It will be the second time in three years the league doesn’t play a full season, since the 2020 season was delayed until July due to Covid-19.

Players reportedly could lose $20.5 million for each day cut from the regularly season schedule. The big names wouldn’t be spared: Max Scherzer, the all-star pitcher for the New York Mets who’s also a union representative, stands to lose an estimated $233,000 per daya powerful incentive to agree.

A delay could also worsen baseball’s struggle to attract new fans, said Brad Snyder, a sports law professor at Georgetown Law School. Viewership for America’s pastime tends to be Whiter and older than football and basketball, he noted, and two seasons of game cancellations so close together could turn away new fans.

4. Does the union have any options?

The MLBPA has a nuclear option, but it wouldn’t be pretty. It would involve the union dissolving itself and bringing an anti-trust lawsuit against the league. They’d have to disband because federal law prohibits unions from filing antitrust complaints, the idea being that that labor groups also limit free-market competition.

It worked for football players in 1992, who successfully sued the NFL over free-agency restrictions, and again in 2011 to end a lockout.

But it could compromise an entire season of baseball for players just as America is looking for normalcy after two years of the pandemic, testing public sentiment and potentially eroding the sport’s popularity.

Read more:

Labor Secretary Walsh Makes Pitch to Help End Baseball Lockout

MLB Umpire Angel Hernandez Will Appeal Loss of Job Bias Lawsuit

MLB Players Deny Mediation Request as Spring Ball Looms

MLB Must Face Minor Leaguers’ Class Claims Over ‘Poverty Wages’

(Updated throughout to reflect MLB's delay of the 2022 season. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at ikullgren@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com