Baseball In Chains

Dustin Brooks

An MLB jersey and hat hung up for the extended offseason

Major League Baseball has shut down. Everything From player training to stadium upkeep has ground to a halt. This lockout is the first work stoppage in the MLB since 1995 and the first in major North American sports since the 2013 NHL lockout. But what exactly is a lockout?

 What is a Lockout?           

According to Bob Jarvis, a professor who teaches a course on baseball law at Nova Southeastern University,  a lockout is effectively when clubs stop all activities involving players. This includes games and training. The term lockout was coined because the clubs literally lock out their players from the facilities. 

But why does this happen? This lockout happened because the MLB and players association collective bargaining agreement expired. According to former teacher union president Glen Reindl a collective bargaining agreement is effectively a contract that includes but is not limited to salaries, benefits and working conditions. Employers are required to negotiate with unions by law. Once this agreement expires a new one has to be formed.

The stoppage of league activities is caused by the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. Technically, activities could still continue without an agreement but that would risk a strike from the players association. 

The Player’s Dispute

The players association is using this opportunity to address some issues they see in the current collective bargaining agreement.  “Although star players are setting contract records… …the average major-league salary (roughly $4 million) has remained flat or dropped; that younger, cheaper players are being relied on more than ever and having their service time manipulated,” according to James Wagner, a Baseball Analyst from the New York Times.  This shows that the players association is concerned about the wide use of cheaper players without “deserved pay”. As former big leaguer and players association representative Doug Glanville puts it “that’s where the Major League Baseball Players Association is concerned because there is a middle class that’s disappearing. The last collective bargained here five years ago plus. That middle class pool, in terms of the aggregate of their salaries, has gone down significantly.”

 The other issue the players association is concerned about is salary arbitration. Salary arbitration is what happens after 3 years of major league service by a player. When this happens a player goes before an arbitration panel to negotiate their new salary. This is an issue for players because teams want to do everything they can to delay arbitration. “ service time is significant because you can see how artificially you can keep that three-year mark down. And there’s a discomfort between how much control they have and being able to manipulate it to make sure you’re under that arbitration number, that three-year mark.” said Glanville.  

In an Interview with NPR Doug Glanville stated

Kris Bryant. He was – he formerly played for the Chicago Cubs. And he had a phenomenal spring training. He was a top prospect, a third baseman. And there is a – clear evidence that this guy was a major league player. He was ready. But they sent him down. The Cubs kept him in Triple-A, in the minor leagues for about – whatever days they needed, 30 days. That one month that he was down in the minor leagues and not clocked – you know, sort of counting the clock at the major league level, kept him from being able to get to arbitration.

Players feel like this kind of action from their clubs undermines their value as players, And thus want to take action against it in the current CBA negotiations.

The Owner’s Perspective

However, owners have plenty of reasons to uphold the status quo. Clubs want to hold onto star players as long as they possibly can for as cheap as they possibly can. As said by Doug “the argument was – from the team is saying, well, hey, you know, this is a great player. Of course you want another year of control. For you fans, you get to keep Kris Bryant another year.” To owners this kind of action is a smart business decision. It allows them to save money while keeping a player that could possibly help their team to be successful.

When Will it End?

This lockout has been going for about a month at this point. Most lockouts/strikes don’t interfere with the season, but it  possibly could. As said by  Reindl “ [The length of negotiations] depends on who has the most leverage. Higher skilled workers, like baseball players, have more leverage against their employers than mcdonalds workers.” There hasn’t been any recent news on the players and the MLB reaching an agreement so it’s impossible to know when this play stoppage will end.