Baseball owners have decided to play hardball – or at least give the impression that they’re going to play hardball. Indeed, MLB executives could lock out the players if the league and the union cannot reach an agreement on the new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement ends Dec. 1.
Do the owners actually want to threaten 20-plus years of peace? Or are they just ruffling feathers to try to get a deal done?
“I think that that’s exactly what’s happening,” MLB writer Rob Neyer said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney, referring to the hard-ball bluff. “There were issues in 1981 – and there were issues in 1994 – that were seen as existential for both sides. Rightly or wrongly, they were seen that way. In particular, another issue that came up for players is the salary cap. For the players, that was existential. They were not going to give on that. It didn’t matter what the owners said or what else the owners would give them. None of the issues that are out there in negotiations seemed to have that level of seriousness. If the players really are going to go to the mat over an international draft, I think that the owners will cave. The same is true with the other issues. I think that we’re just getting into the very final stage of negotiating and both sides are going to float a few trial balloons out there to see if they can get a little bit more of what they want, but I really think this is standard renegotiating stuff. I’ll be surprised if there’s a lockout. I’ll be even more surprised if we don’t have baseball on Opening Day next April.”
Luckily, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and union rep Tony Clark have a strong relationship.
“By all indications, it’s quite good,” Neyer said. “For the most part, the tenor of the negotiations 20, 25, 35, 40 years ago was reflected by the public stances that both sides took. They were acrimonious. They were incredibly acrimonious. These people actually didn’t like each other quite often. It wasn’t just that they were tough negotiators. They disliked each other, and that was a problem. I just don’t think that’s a case these days. I think that Rob Manfred, he’s been the chief negotiator for years and he’s always gotten along with the union and vice versa. I do think that Tony Clark is under pressure to be tough because he hasn’t done this before. He’s the first player who’s ever led the players association. There have also been some examples in other sports of ex-players leading the union and maybe not doing so well in negotiations – or at least that’s what the perception was. I think Clark’s under some pressure to look tough and be tough, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come together at the end.”