After a 99-day strike, baseball is back! For those of you who were unaware, the Major League Baseball Association and the MLB Players association had been unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement after the previous one expired. The strike-out led to a freeze on trading, the delay of Spring Training, the cancellation of Opening Day, and the delay of several other games in the regular season.
However, after several more tense rounds of negotiations, an agreement has been reached, and Spring Training is underway. Seemingly, the single biggest issue was the luxury tax threshold, which hadn’t been updated since 2017. The luxury tax threshold is the total amount of money a team pay their players before they have to start paying extra taxes on their salaries, with the amount of tax going up the more a team is over the threshold, effectively functioning as a salary cap for all players. While the MLB did agree to modestly increase the threshold for the tax, they held firm to not significantly expand the threshold or do away with the tax entirely.
While the MLB argued that players were getting greedy, the players association argued they were trying to look out for younger players’ salaries, which were often the first to be cut in order to find the money for bigger players. Players also argued that owners were not fairly compensating players, given the amount of profit they made off them and taking into account the fact that profits have risen much faster than the luxury tax has.
The new agreement, which will be in effect for five years, modestly raised the luxury tax threshold, increased minimum salaries for younger players, and put into place a universal designated hitter position.
While I’m glad the strike has been resolved, as a baseball fan who’s desperately wanted a normal season, I can’t help but think how truly terrible Commissioner Rob Manfred’s handling of the situation was. There is no reason the strike should have gone on this long and become this nasty. Between openly antagonizing his players, upsetting fans, and delaying the whole process by bringing frankly insulting offers to the table, there’s no doubt that the one man responsible for this whole mess is the man whose job it was to resolve it.
The commissioner of baseball is supposed to be a link between the owners and the players and handle all major labor disputes. Many looked to Manfred to bring a sense of calm and avoid MLB’s first lockout since 1994-1995. Manfred hailed himself as a master negotiator and pointed to the lack of missed games from strikes since he started working for the MLB in 1998. Yet his first offer to the players association ignored all of their concerns and requests. Many newspapers reported that his deal seemed almost designed to fail. Many, myself included, felt that this was intentional in order to make the players look bad and weaken their bargaining position by forcing them to come to the table or answer to the fans for why the season was delayed. Many players felt deeply betrayed and believed that Manfred did not really care about them, placing the sole responsibility for the cancellation of games on him. Regardless of one’s opinion of the strike, most can agree that this was probably avoidable if Manfred had done his job as a negotiator properly and not instead upset most of his players.
While this battle is over, I worry the damage has already been done in terms of the relationship between the commissioner’s office and the players association, given how there now seems to be little trust in the commissioner’s actions and that most baseball players involved in the strike feel angry and betrayed. While Manfred has said that rebuilding the relationship of the Major League Baseball Association with the players will be a priority, one has to wonder if that bridge has been irreparably burned.