MLB Lockout

Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred ( 2015 – Present )
Graphics by Junsbaseball

Isn’t it ironic that my blog was created on the same day Major League Baseball entered the first lockout since 1994? It would sound coincidentally perfect timing to start a baseball blog of my own since there won’t be any news about trades and signings while the lockout is in effect. I might as well immerse myself into writing about baseball and organizing photos I had taken since 2012.

So how did we get into this lockout? I have narrowed down by gathering information from the credible sources as concise as possible without creating a wall of text. Let’s talk about the previous lockout to find out how it started and ended.

History of lockout

The baseball lockout can be seen as a strike from, for example, postal workers. The post office would suffer the labour shortage, which leads to delaying numerous shipments to thousands of households. Some of the common reasons to go on a strike are request for salary negotiation and improving work condition. The post office and the union workers — postal workers — have to reach an agreement to resume a normal operation, which is equivalent of starting the baseball season.

Major League Baseball Players Association logo

The most notable and recent lockout transpired in 1994 between the Major League Baseball Players Association also known as MLBPA and Major League Baseball as it is known as MLB. I was born in 1985 and started watching major league baseball around 2006 so I wasn’t familiar with what MLBPA does and how they were formed.

MLBPA is a unionized organization that was created by a group of players and committee in order to bring the equal values for the players. Back in 1960’s — about 90 years after the birth of baseball, there was no group to represent players’ inquiries to the management or hear their voice. Therefore, 4 players — Robin Roberts, Harvey Kuenn, Jim Bunning, and Bob Friend — decided to form a union for the aforementioned purposes.

First ever Collective Bargaining Agreement 

So there is another term we see on the lockout news as much as MLBPA. That is Collective Bargaining Agreement also known as CBA. It was established by the first executive director of MLBPA, Marvin Miller, who helped raise the minimum salary and pension for the players for the first time in 1968. CBA contains a series of rules and contracts that cover from the minimum salary, drug testing, amateur/international draft and other baseball rules such as seven-inning doubleheaders and designated hitter rule. This gets renewed every 5 years under the condition of both parties agreeing on the same term.

Unfortunately, they did not come to an agreement in 1994 when the 2nd executive director, Donald Fehr (current executive director of NHL Players Association), was forced to lock the season in August 1994 (the season started despite the CBA expiring without an agreement). Most teams ended up missing almost one third of the entire season, which was around 113 games out of 162. This had left many questionable “What if the season had not been cancelled, he would have…” starting with…

94 Montreal Expo would have won it all?

Expo fans expressing their disappointment for 1994 lockout

What if someone told you your favourite team had the highest odd of winning the World Series in the second half of the season, but the season gets cancelled due to the strike and the odds vanish like a dust. That actually happened to 1994 Montreal Expos — who finished in 1st place in National League and had the best regular season record of 74 wins and 40 losses. The team was stacked with super stars and was on the cusp of surpassing the most wins (116 wins) in a season achieved by Chicago Cubs back in 1906. They became the most famous victim as what could have been the first and the last World Series title for them before the franchise relocated to Washington, D.C. and became Washington Nationals in 2004.

Matt Williams 43 homers could have surpassed Roger Mari’s 61 set in 1961

Matt Williams as a Giant back in 1994

Matt Williams — a former Nationals and KBO Kia Tigers manager — was on the pace to break Roger Mari’s all-time home run record (61) set in 1961. Having played 112 games as a Giants’ third baseman, he was forced to finish with 43 home runs. Nobody knows the cancelled 50 games would have given him an opportunity to either tie or surpass Mari’s 61 home runs, but many says he definitely had a shot.

Tony Gwynn’s possible .400 batting average for the first time since Ted Williams

Tony Gwynn played with the Padres for two decades

The hall of fame and beloved Padres outfielder, Tony Gwynn is known for his consistent and excellent batting average as he remarkably maintained his batting average at least .300 every season for 20 years except his first year when he debuted with .289, which was still good. His highest came in 1994 where he was forced to finish with a .394 batting average in 110 games. If he had played the rest of cancelled games, he might have surpassed Ted Williams‘s best mark, .406 set in 1941 through 143 games.

Michael Jordan could continued its baseball career

Michael Jordan in White Sox uniform in 1994

The Basketball legend Michael Jordan, who abruptly retired from NBA after winning 3 championships (91, 92, 93) to challenge himself in the world of baseball, signed a minor league contract with Chicago White Sox in 1994 at the age of 30. He started his career in Birmingham Barons, which is still a Double-A affiliate of Chicago White Sox. His numbers weren’t splendid or great enough to get a call from the big league, but played hard enough to show some potentials. His notable stat was stealing bases as he swiped 30 times in 127 games. Unfortunately, the shorten-season in that year along with replacement players in the following season forced him to go back to NBA and wins another 3 more championships (95, 96, 97).

Even though he did not make the major league debut, he did play a major league game against the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition game on April 7, 1994 where he drove in a game-tying run with a double to the left field. And he wore 45, not 23 🙂

Aftermath of 1994 lockout

The long-standing negotiation continued from August 1994 to April 1995 due to the persistent disagreement between the players and the owners about salary caps despite having both White House and National Labor Relations Board involved who proposed a deadline to settle the matter by February 6. The 1995 spring training resumed using replacement players for each team, which made the owners and the players come to an agreement to finally end the strike. The 1995 season was also shortened to 144 games as the season starting late.

2021 lockout

So back to the present. I hope above content was useful to learn some background information of the origin of the lockout. After 28 years, here we are again as the CBA — which was finalized on November 30, 2016 — expired on December 2, 2021 as two sides ran into a conflict for the following issues.

  • Minimum salary, which has increased every year by $10,000 in the past 4 years
  • Universal designated hitter system, which allows a flexible lineup in the National League as well as preventing injuries for pitchers
  • CBT (Competitive Balance Tax) threshold adjustment.

To anyone not familiar with the term CBT (Competitive Balance Tax) also known as a luxury tax, it is a system that charges more taxes around 20% to 50% to the teams that overspend by going over the threshold per year ($210 million as of 2021). It was created to prevent rich teams to sign star players to even out the competitive trading market so small market teams also get some opportunities to sign those players as well. Let’s look at a couple of different scenarios. The latest update on CBT can be found here.

Texas Rangers had signed three blockbuster deals a day before the 2021 lockout. Starting with a 10-year deal with Corey Seager for $325 million and a $175 million, 7-year deal with Marcus Semien along with John Gray’s 4-year, $56 million contract. To see whether they have not gone over the threshold for 2021 ($210 million).

($325m / 10 years = 33m per year) + ($175m / 7 years = 25m per year) + ($56 / 4 years = 14m per year) = $72 million per year

Therefore, they still have $138 millions to spend despite making big moves already. Of course, not every team will spend close to the limit as the timing of making a move depends on every team’s situation.

On the same year, Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to be the only team to go over the CBT limit by spending $51 millions more, which led them to pay $17 million dollars of taxes. The MLB luxury tax tracker can be found here.

Now it is clear that why players from MLBPA want to see the CBT limit go up, so it would enable team owners to sign more players without having to worry about luxury taxes. However, there are some owners who would be opposed to its increase because they are either not interested in spending much at a moment or just not a big spender from the beginning.

What has changed?

The current lockout not only shows the disappointment from fans all over the world, but MLB website is visually setting a tone by taking down the photos of every player as they are owned by the MLB as well as replacing all the free agency-related articles with the old story archive as the transactions are frozen until the strike ends. However, minor leagues are not affected by this so this season might be the time to pay extra attention to the prospects.

Jeff Passan’s Twitter indicating blank avatars of players

Hopefully, both MLB and MLBPA reach an agreement timely and start the 162-game season to not create those “What if” scenarios.

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