No one wins in a baseball labor dispute -

Rich Dubroff

No one wins in a baseball labor dispute

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

My father wasn’t much of a sports fan. Our family talks over dinner weren’t often about baseball. He talked more about current events and eagerly shared his thoughts, which were always interesting and nuanced.

He spent his entire working life, 49 years, working for Western Union. As a dedicated member of the Communications Worker of America, he was clearly pro-union but wanted the company to do well, too. He eagerly participated in Western Union’s stock purchase plan for employees.

I’ve never been a member of a union but, thanks to him, I’m always skeptical about labor/management disputes. Also, thanks to him, I’ve always believed that no one wins in a strike.

In his time, his union regularly struck against Western Union, and he knew that the incremental gains the union may have made after a lengthy strike weren’t worth the pain of a multi-week or even a multi-month strike.

One year when I was in high school, his union struck in early June. He didn’t return to work until mid-September, when I was returning to school. There was no summer vacation for us that year.

While the Major League Baseball Players Association’s dispute with Major League Baseball is not anything like what my family often went through, the same principle holds. No one wins, and the settlement that could be made on February 1st is possible on December 1st.

With just over two weeks to go before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, the sides are, not surprisingly, reportedly far apart.

Of course, it’s possible that there will be an agreement, but the overwhelming majority of observers think there won’t be one and the owners will lock out the players on December 2nd, putting offseason transactions on hold.

In previous labor disputes, the players had the edge because the CBA expired during the season, and they could withhold their services. There are no games, so the owners can put the offseason on pause.


That creates uncertainty in players. Since few trades have been made and few free agents have been signed, that leaves dozens of players unsure of where they’ll be playing in 2022.

Uncertainty is unpleasant, and players want to know where they’ll train come February. That uncertainty is the leverage the owners hold.

If the dispute goes past early February, then the players have the leverage. Once spring training is delayed and Grapefruit and Cactus league games are canceled, money is lost by the owners.

Many fans will again label this as a fight between millionaires and billionaires and threaten to boycott games and not watch on television. There were fans who turned away from the game during the 1994-1995 strike that saw the World Series canceled.

Baseball can’t have a repeat, especially after the truncated 60-game season of 2020 and the pandemic-restricted crowds of early 2021. It needs several seasons of normalcy to lure back fans who got out of the habit of going to games during the pandemic.

Some fans whose sympathy would normally be with the owners might be drawn to the players because issues in dispute could be relevant to the Orioles.

Service time manipulation and free agency are being hotly debated, and so is the so-called “tanking” issue. The Orioles are set to pick first again this season in the draft, their fourth straight year of picking in the top five. A new agreement may put a restriction on how often a team could have a high pick.

Perhaps a draft lottery, similar to the NBA’s, could be instituted, though that has hardly eliminated tanking.

A salary floor, guaranteeing that teams like the Orioles spend more on the major league payroll, is being discussed, too, though the players don’t want a salary cap.

Even though some baseball fans shift their focus to the holidays and football during November, December and January, they would miss the free-agent and trade chatter.

If an agreement is reached, say around February 1st, there would be a condensed free-agent market. While the NFL, NBA and NHL have brief free-agent markets, they don’t occur  just before training camp.

It could be entertaining to watch teams hurriedly assemble their teams, and annoying for agents such as Scott Boras, who likes to craft a market for his clients and often avoids having them sign until late January or even into spring training.

Teams could suffer during a lockout, too. Ticket sales, which are often tied to free-agent signings, are likely to take a hit from the lack of offseason news, and teams can’t schedule their preseason caravans, conventions and FanFests because major league players wouldn’t make promotional appearances during a lockout.

In the end, a two-month offseason lockout probably wouldn’t hurt much. If no games are lost, fans would quickly forget about the dispute and start discussing the season.

The players and the owners have worked together on the establishment of the World Baseball Classic, discipline on domestic violence, and on health and safety protocols during the pandemic.

Even though ESPN, FOX and TBS have long-term agreements with baseball in place for regular season, and most important, postseason games, ratings haven’t been strong. The 2021 World Series had the second-lowest ratings in history, ahead only of last year’s neutral-site series.

Players and owners need to work together on a host of issues, especially the pace of games. In 2021, players withheld their blessing from the universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs because they had little leverage, and they needed to show the owners they were united.

The owners, few of whom were involved in the game during the 1994-1995 dispute, know they can’t break the union. They know that free agency and the publicity that goes along with a major signing is a boon to ticket sales. They would love to do away with arbitration, and that’s under discussion, too.

While fans are excited when their team signs a top free agent, arbitration creates only bad feelings.

There’s a lot to work to do between now and December 1st, and while there’s incredible animosity between the two sides, they’re going to have to work together at some point. Otherwise, I’m going to be hearing my father’s voice every hour reminding me that no one wins in a labor dispute.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB




  1. Orial

    November 15, 2021 at 8:26 am

    Excellent opening analogy Rich defining the true “head-scratching” of union/management strife. The early days of of sweat shops,dangerous steel mills were deservedly instrumental in the formation of unions but yes recent years seemed to butt well paid,well formed employee/management groups in nonsensical standoffs. Baseball’s on thin ice as it is and now for this? For what? Not ONE topic of dispute in MLB is worthy of debate let alone stoppage. Echoing your “common fans” motto–it’s millionaires arguing with billionaires with a minor league group still making decent cash. Hard to ignore that simple motto. As they sit down to either talk or ignore each other just remember–we’re not talking sweat shops or dangerous steel mills.

  2. CalsPals

    November 15, 2021 at 8:38 am

    How does a FA player signing before a new CBA is agreed on effected? Can parts of their contract change because of the new CBA?…go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 15, 2021 at 8:45 am

      Good questions. I think the uncertainty of the terms of the CBA will dampen the free agent market over the next two weeks.

      Teams uncertain of whether there will be a salary floor or a more punitive luxury tax may choose to wait until after the CBA is negotiated to make offers. I don’t think any of the terms of the contract would change.

      A team signing a free agent for a one-year deal, like Andrew Heaney with the Dodgers, wouldn’t be affected, but a team that may want to bid for one of the top free agents will probably choose to wait until this is done.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 15, 2021 at 9:04 am

      I see that Eduardo Rodriguez agreed on a five-year deal with the Tigers. Will be interested to see if there are more prior to December 1.

    • CalsPals

      November 15, 2021 at 9:05 am

      Thanks, the whole process is clear as mud, will be interesting…go O’s…

    • CalsPals

      November 15, 2021 at 9:42 am

      Yes, just saw that, maybe many are being advised to sign before an agreement is made…go O’s…

  3. Phil770

    November 15, 2021 at 9:36 am

    The sports entertainment market has changed dramatically; MLB, including the union, has not adapted the CBA to recognize this evolution. Revenue sharing, salary cap, work rules all need to be revised to accept the market reality. The product is not nearly watchable as it once was. The players own some responsibility for that too, not just management.

  4. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 15, 2021 at 10:36 am

    Which foot do they want to shoot?

  5. Baltimore Castaway

    November 15, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Have been a serious fan and lover of MLB since I was a kid growing-up in Western NY in the 50’s and 60’s. No other Sport has provided the connection to other elements of my personal life. Love the history of the game in our Society.

    As I turn 70 this coming Summer I have to admit for the first time in my life that the game has lost much of its luster for me.

    I blame wanton greed and desire for power by the Owners and especially the MLB Commissioner for the majority of this.

    Here are just several recent examples;

    -screwing the City of Atlanta out of the All-Star game was an egregious abuse-of-power by Manfred–moving it the Denver was also asinine… A circus clown move if there ever has been one.

    -REFUSING to ever televise a World Series game in the afternoons is such a short-sighted money grab. They have much more money to count for themselves but they better use it wisely. The gravy train will end when young people don’t support the game in another 5-15 years. Hell–kids today in our Region don’t even play the game any longer. It’s been dramatically overtaken by Lacrosse (which I will never understand how people can even watch that game).

    -eliminating local programmers from televising free games in the local market is mean-spirited.

    -Allowing Owners of teams like the Orioles, Pirates, A’s, Twins, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Reds, Guardians and Mariners to use their teams strictly as Money Machines without ever really trying to win is reprehensible. Shame on all of them. How can you actually expect fans to support these moral equivalents of the Nationals who lost every game playing GlobeTrotters?

    We are not far off from having the NBA become the second most popular Sport in this Country…when this happens, Owners will have no one to blame except themselves–you gotta be kidding me…

    What a disgrace.


    And thank you Peter A. for single-handedly ruining this Franchise. Being “the smartest guy in the room” hasn’t worked-out too well for your team.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 15, 2021 at 11:01 am

      Mike, the Twins had a $125 million payroll this season. The Reds had a $122 million payroll. How is that not trying to win?

      While I would enjoy an afternoon Series game, FOX is paying to promote its primetime shows, and though ratings are down, they still win the night–except for Sundays when the Series goes against the NFL. NBA Finals games don’t start until 9:15 or so, and you don’t hear anyone call for afternoon games there because the audience wouldn’t justify it.

      I hate needlessly long games as much as anyone else, and I can stay up because it’s my job to watch baseball games and don’t need to get up at 6, and I find afternoon playoff games fun, but the audiences are far smaller in the afternoons.

      We’re looking at things from an East Coast bias. Kids on the West Coast can watch entire World Series games before bedtime–even a four-hour game ends at 9:15, and I don’t think the ratings among kids are appreciably higher.

      • Baltimore Castaway

        November 15, 2021 at 12:09 pm


        -The Twins haven’t won since the days of Kirby Puckett. The Reds since the days of Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine–their fans are as deprived as the Oriole’s Fanbase. I will also note that the Reds owner is dismantling that team as we type..

        – the 8:00 p.m. WS Start Times are only about Money–Fox and MLB basically are saying screw young fans and families.

        – East Coast bias is true. Having a WS Game in California starting at 1:00 p.m. wouldn’t hurt things..

        -The pace of play is Out of Control…. we all know it. MLB can’t or wont do anything about it…this is a big problem that calls for Leadership. Too Bad Manfred and the Cabal of Owners in NY/Boston/LA/D.C./Chicago–(the Billionaires that run the game) don’t care enough about the quality and attractiveness of their product to do anything about it.

        – What MLB did to Minor League Baseball is a disgrace. They gutted MILB Leagues that are as old as the game. They caused the removal of some historic Minor league teams that were there for many decades. They are just now going to pay for a cheap roadside hotel room for young men who work for $300-$800 per month…really?

        – the 2021 AS Game is Exhibit A on how corrupt the Commissioner’s Office has become. Stacey Abrams must have pictures of Manfred….who makes Roger Goodell look like Fred Rogers…

        – by my (very) non-professional projections, at least 17 out of the 30 teams in the game have zero chance of winning a Championship in 2022–that’s IF they play at all.

        The game is in deep trouble. Very deep trouble. This breaks my heart.

        The Fans didn’t cause this..

      • Raveonjo

        November 15, 2021 at 2:57 pm

        I agree with much of what Castaway states. I live in Arizona, but I realize that the east coast is a megalopolis that has no equal out west. The climax of a World Series game should not be after midnight for a plurality of the population.

      • jimcarter

        November 15, 2021 at 3:48 pm

        I think we can do without racist/bigoted remarks in this blog–unless that’s the audience you’re going after. “Powder puff white person city” is uncalled for! My family is diverse and I don’t want to read ANYTHING even VAGUELY bigoted or racist.

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          November 15, 2021 at 4:34 pm

          Oh come on JC …. I’m a white man,and I don’t mind one stinkinig bit be being referred to as Power Puff! The oversensitivity of some simply escape me. Man up for crying out loud!

          Now I’ve never mentioned it before because I’ve never really thought much of it, but before anybody else around here calls me a racist (again), this time for simply defending BC, let it be known that my family is “diverse” just as PeanutMan says his is. But like I said …that really doesn’t matter ….or should anyway.

    • CalsPals

      November 15, 2021 at 11:55 am

      I agree, even though I like afternoon games, when it’s playoffs I enjoy prime time games, although 7:00 starts would be better…go O’s…

    • willmiranda

      November 15, 2021 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks, BC, for sharing your feelings. A quick response to one point. I really don’t think the NBA is going to be Number Two. It’s become a league where the players are carpetbaggers and the owners are carney barkers. I think that fans –I hope it’s not just me– like to have something stable to root for. Who knows, from week to week, the rosters of NBA teams? Or even their uniforms? The college game is more fun to watch. Not to mention the penchant of NBA personalities to sound off on topics way over their heads, often insulting the characters and values of potential fans. As far as ranking the popularity of sports, we should never forget that ESPN considers Spelling Bee a sport.

    • cedar

      November 15, 2021 at 1:35 pm

      I understand the anger of moving the All-Star game but Manfred did not make this decision alone, the owners, current and former players as a group agreed to move the game. Additionally, several corporations were threatening to pull their advertising and sponsorship from the game. I’m not taking a side on whether it was right or wrong, just pointing out that there many people and factors in making that decision.

  6. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 15, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    I’m not sure what this says about the state of Professional Baseball, but I find the most enjoyable form of the game to watch nowadays is the little league World Series.

    But given time I imagine the powers that be will screw that game up as well.

  7. cedar

    November 15, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Rich – I wish that the owners and players would see this issues as clearly as you do.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 15, 2021 at 2:25 pm

      Cedar, the owners and players are competitive people. They wouldn’t have gotten where they are if they weren’t, but in this case, competition isn’t for the best.

  8. dlgruber1

    November 15, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    I agree with what Orial said. It’s not as if these are school teachers or coal workers or truck drivers. It’s overpaid players vs the owners. Oops, I’m sorry, I forgot, we’re not supposed to use the term owner any more. How racist of me. Please forgive me. Wake me up when it’s over. I’ve got enough to keep me busy in the meantime. Now, if the PGA tour golfers go on strike, then I’ll be pissed. They at least have to perform to earn their money.

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