JUPITER, Fla. — Major League Baseball slammed the door on its own Opening Day Tuesday, lopping off the first two series of the season after the owners could not strike a deal with the players on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Every team’s first two series were canceled. The Red Sox were scheduled to open the season at Fenway Park with three-game series against the Rays and Orioles. The earliest the Sox can now play their home opener is April 15.
After nine days of face-to-face negotiations at Roger Dean Stadium, the union rejected one last set of proposals from the league, prompting commissioner Rob Manfred to make good on an ominous deadline that had been extended by a day to Tuesday.
“I had hoped against hope that I would not have to have this particular press conference in which I am going to cancel some regular-season games,” said Manfred, who was a participant and strategist in talks that appeared to gain momentum Monday night before running off the rails as the deadline approached. “We worked hard to avoid an outcome that’s bad for our fans, bad for our players, bad for our clubs.”
The Players Association ripped Manfred’s decision.
“Players and fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted, but sadly not surprised,” read a statement from the union. “What Rob Manfred characterized as a ‘defensive lockout’ is, in fact, the culmination of a decades-long attempt by owners to break our Player fraternity. As in the past, this effort will fail.”
In his opening remarks at a news conference, union executive director Tony Clark said, “This 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. The reason we are not playing is simple: A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon.
“In a $10 billion industry, the owners have decided to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have: the players.”
The loss of games marks the first labor-related impact to the regular-season schedule since 1995.
In his remarks, Manfred referenced that the “last five years have been very difficult for the league from a revenue perspective.” Considering the sport has reaped $43 billion in a span that included the 60-game COVID-shortened season of 2020 and attendance restrictions last year, Manfred’s comment likely will be held up for scrutiny by forensic accountants who also cast a skeptical eye on his statement last month at the owners’ meetings that investing in a team was not as sound a financial decision as investing in the stock market.
“The game has suffered damage for a while now,” said Clark. “The game has changed. The game has been manipulated.
“Players have been commoditized in a way that’s really hard to explain in the grand scheme.”
“If it were solely in my ability or the ability of the clubs to make an agreement, we would have an agreement,” Manfred said.
For a while here, some thought the sides were headed toward an agreement. In the middle of Monday’s marathon 16½-hour talks that ended at around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, a sense of optimism swelled in some quarters.
A union source said before talks broke off that the sides were far apart, and that distance became apparent soon after the sides resumed talking Tuesday afternoon.
After an MLB official said that the union “had a decidedly different tone today and made proposals inconsistent with the prior discussions,” the downward spiral for the rest of the day was established, with the union swiftly responding that it had always said the sides were far apart and that any optimism about a deal was coming from the league.
The lockout, imposed by Manfred on Dec. 2, was designed to inject urgency into talks, but talks on assorted issues failed to gain momentum until really the last 48 hours. Tuesday marked the 90th day of the lockout.
The hope was for the sides to find peace in an industry that has enjoyed robust financial growth, but the outcome was predictable for some time, given the stark differences in opinion.
Each side has moved on the competitive-balance tax thresholds, with the union dropping to $238 million and MLB upping its Year 1 figure to $220 million, but the gap remains large.
At the union news conference, Mets pitcher Max Scherzer pointing out that the Padres having a higher payroll than the Yankees was a compelling example of how the CBT has acted like a salary cap.
MLB has gone up to $25 million for its pre-arbitration bonus pool offer with no growth over the course of the five-year CBA, while the union Tuesday dropped to $85 million with $5 million increases each year.
The sides also remain apart on minimum salaries.
On the matter of expanded playoffs, the players made it clear and may have swayed the owners that they will not budge on expanding the playoffs to 14 teams, vastly preferring only 12 teams in part because their proposed format rewards division winners more.
“We’ve also been clear and consistent that there are major issues on which we’re very far apart,” chief union negotiator Bruce Meyer said. “That hasn’t changed. There have been and still are major issues.”
There is no word on when the sides will reengage, although New York has been mentioned as a possible site, perhaps later in the week.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.