And, so, it begins. The apparent multi-year effort by major-league baseball to lose me as a fan, continues apace with the unsurprising news that a formal lockout is now in place. The previous Collective Bargaining Agreement expired at midnight last night. With the two sides apparently as far apart as ever (I’ve had lunch-breaks that lasted longer than their last session of negotiation). Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the lockout, effective one minute later. That ended an unprecedented 26-year spell of labor peace. The last time there was any kind of stoppage, there were no Arizona Diamondbacks, I was working for a stockbroker in London, while Hootie and the Blowfish had the biggest selling album.
I’m sure both sides have very good arguments. I also don’t care. In fact, considering the D-backs are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the timing here is near-perfect. For the idea of MLB being forced to skip next year entirely, currently seems more like a promise than a threat. Maybe we can just fast forward past all of the next three seasons, and go straight to Arizona’s prospects turning into productive major-leaguers? Because, if the past year and three-quarters have proven anything, it’s that baseball needs me, considerably more than I need baseball. Well, definitely not less, anyway. There are alternative ways to spend my leisure time.
That said, the changes in the game do seem to have skewed the profits more heavily towards the owners. Deeper dives into analytics show players peaking before they reach free-agency. Teams have become - entirely understandably - averse to paying “over the hill” players, but that has not been balanced by the players in pre-arbitration and going through the arbitration process being better compensated. Teams have been using the system to hold onto prospects for as long as possible: again, you can absolutely see why, but also why those experiencing service time shenanigans are not happy about it. There’s also the question of tanking, whereby terrible teams are rewarded for being terrible.
These are all, more or less, fundamental issues, and it’s not the sort of thing where anyone will be able to snap their fingers and a solution will arrive. It’s going to be the kind of negotiation which makes seeking peace in the Middle East seem like a leisure pursuit in comparison. Considering this is going to set the tone for the the next five years or more, and affect the distribution of billions of dollars in revenue, no-one is going to rush into anything. It’s not as if the lockout is particularly impactful for most. No games are being postponed, and nobody is losing money. However, it will stop free-agent negotiations, and the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft has already been “postponed indefinitely”.
It’s going to be interesting to see how things play out in the era of social media, something that was just not a thing the last time there was labor strife. We’ve already seen a number of players change their Twitter avatars to blank heads, reflecting changes on MLB.com. Though it’s considerably less clear quite what the impact is supposed to be, beyond some kind of signaling. Mind you, that’s all you need on social media, the Land of Empty Gestures. Both sides are going to use that to get their messages out directly to the consumers. But will anyone care? Right now, it’s probably safe to say most people have priorities and concerns elsewhere, whether it’s inflation, COVID variants, Christmas, or whatever.
Come spring training, if there’s still no resolution, and the prospect of the season getting delayed comes into sharper focus, things might change. But right now, this seems like small beer. And a small beer seems like a good idea about now, to be honest...