MLB lockout: Your FAQ guide to the work stoppage and its history

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BALTIMORE, MD – APRIL 29: The locked gates before the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 29, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The game was closed to the public due to the social unrest in Baltimore. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

A lockout is almost upon us in Major League Baseball as the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between MLB owners and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) has nearly lapsed. The CBA, which was enacted between the 2016 and 2017 offseason, is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. (Eastern time) on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

As a result, there will be a lot of things that will be different in the baseball world this offseason as long as the lockout continues.

In the meantime, though, there are some burning questions on what will happen because it hasn’t happened in MLB for over a quarter of a century. Here’s what you need to know about lockouts and the history of them in MLB.

Is MLB going on strike or is it a lockout?

The difference between a strike and a lockout for MLB is two different things. A strike is when, in this case, the MLBPA (which all MLB players are in) refuses to work. A lockout happens when the MLB owners initiate a work stoppage.

This means that team personnel cannot be in contact with any players, no free agents can sign, and no trades can be made. Injured players also cannot receive rehab or treatment at any club facility or from any team trainer. Players that train at a Spring Training complex or MLB stadium are out of luck too so they have to find somewhere else to train.

When was MLB’s last work stoppage?

The last MLB work stoppage started in August 1994 and ended in March 1995. It wiped out roughly the last 50 games of the 1994 season, all of the playoffs, the World Series, a few weeks of Spring Training, and 18 games of the 1995 season.

Why did the last MLB work stoppage last that long?

The Collective Bargaining Agreement of the time had elapsed after the 1993 season. However, MLB owners decided not to have a “lockout” and 1994 started with the owners and MLBPA working under the previous CBA. However, in the second week of August, negotiations had soured so much that the MLBPA went on strike. The biggest holdup was that the owners wanted a salary cap but also, there were other factors.

In the 1980s, MLB owners colluded to keep salaries stagnant. The most famous case was future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson in 1987. He wanted to play for the Cubs but since the owners were colluding, Dawson and his agent gave the Cubs a blank check.

The Cubs gave Dawson $500,000, which was roughly half of his salary the year before, plus incentives. Dawson, who had been an All-Star three times in the decade, won six Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and ranked in the top 10 in MVP voting three times (including two second-place finishes), ended up winning the NL MVP in 1987.

In 1994, baseball was without a commissioner as well since the owners forced Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign. The acting Commissioner was Milwaukee Brewers owner Allan H. (“Bud”) Selig. Selig eventually became the full-time MLB Commissioner in 1998 and sold the Brewers to his daughter, Wendy, who sold the team to Mark Attanasio in 2004.

Eventually, the President of the United States at the time (Bill Clinton) intervened as a negotiator with no luck. A federal arbitrator also was used as a negotiator with no luck. After the vast majority of MLB owners threatened to use replacement players (former MLB players, minor leaguers, college players), a federal judge (future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor) ruled in favor of the players in March 1995.

Play resumed but a new CBA was not agreed upon until after the 1996 season.

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