History lesson: MLB work stoppage, if it happens, isn’t the end of the world

Oct 26, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before game one of the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before game one of the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

If a Major League Baseball lockout and work stoppage is declared in the early moment of December 2, it will have one thing going for it: History says it works for MLB.

The current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association expires at 11:59 p.m. (Eastern time) on Wednesday. Since there is no on-field baseball activity at present, expiration of that “deadline” could be meaningless. After all, spring training camps don’t open until mid-February, and there are no spring training games scheduled until the end of that month.

The first regular season games won’t be played until March 31.

That means the most affected people would be players who are free agents. They would be unable to negotiate new contracts. That’s one principal reason why there has been a crush of signings these past few days.

The past shows MLB work stoppages produced positive results

MLB team owners are not required to declare a lockout Thursday morning. They have the option of simply continuing to negotiate with the union toward a new Basic Agreement, while continuing to sign and trade players under terms of whatever agreement is eventually negotiated.

If owners declare a lockout, all the signing activities would stop. The other casualty would be the Major League Rule 5 draft, typically held on the final day of the Winter Meetings, which are scheduled for next week in Orlando.

Aside from those two non-events, however, most fans would not even notice a lockout. Beyond that, the record of negotiations between the teams and owners has this encouraging nugget: Not one regular-season game has ever been lost due to an owners’ lockout.

There have been some spring training games cancelled, but no regular-season games. The times regular season games were lost (basically 1972, 1981, 1994, and 1995) were all due to player strikes.

The lockout weapon has been used by owners three times since creation of the Major League Baseball Players Association in the 1960s. In all three cases, an agreement was reached prior to the first regular pitch being thrown. Yes,  there was one relative cliff-hanger.

Here’s a look at the three “lockout” winters.

1973: A Collective Bargaining Agreement put in place following the 1972 strike expired on December 31 of that year. With players and owners bitterly divided over basic issues such as free agency, the owners in early February closed early spring training camps, a step union leader Marvin Miller characterized as a lockout.

The owners denied that closing pre-camps constituted a lockout, but the question became elementary at month’s end when the two sides agreed to a three-year deal. That Basic Agreement included such new provisions as neutral Binding Arbitration, and the allowing of veteran players to reject trades. Spring games began on schedule.

1976: The 1973 agreement expired December 31, 1975, by which time arbitrator Peter Seitz had ruled on the McNally and Messersmith cases, essentially invalidating the reserve clause. That dampened owner enthusiasm for talking; in fact, there were not even any talks on a new agreement held until early February.

On February 23, owners announced a spring training lockout. Two weeks later, however, when a U.S. Appeals court upheld the Messersmith decision, owners opened camps and allowed play to begin even though no new Basic Agreement was yet in place. The new agreement was not completed until July, but players took the field and no games were lost.

1990: With expiration of the Basic Agreement at the end of 1989, owners notify the union that camps will be locked until a new agreement is in place. In February, commissioner Fay Vincent intercedes in the stalled talks.

Ten days later, with spring training camps closed all of that time, negotiations resumed. Following a weekend of hard bargaining overseen by Vincent, the commissioner announced agreement on a new deal that will extend through 1993. Terms included an increase of minimum salary to $100,000, increases in owners’ contributions to the pension plan, and creation of a “Super 2” classification for arbitration.

Next. What you need to know about the expiring CBA. dark

A limited spring training schedule was played, and the regular season began on schedule.