MLB cancels first 2 regular-season series after MLBPA rejects league's final proposal

ByESPN.com news services via via logo
March 1, 2022, 7:09 PM

Major League Baseball has canceled Opening Day, with commissioner Rob Manfred announcing Tuesday that the sport will scrap regular-season games over a labor dispute for the first time in 27 years after acrimonious lockout talks collapsed in the hours before management's deadline.

With owners and players unable to agree on a contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 1, Manfred canceled the first two series for each of the 30 teams, cutting each club's schedule from 162 games to likely 156 at most. A total of 91 games were erased.

Manfred said the league and union have not made plans for future negotiations and that players won't be paid for missed games.

"My deepest hope is we get an agreement quickly," Manfred said. "I'm really disappointed we didn't make an agreement."

After the sides made progress during 13 negotiating sessions over 16½ hours Monday, the league sent the players' association a "best and final offer" on Tuesday, the ninth straight day of negotiations.

Players rejected that offer, setting the stage for MLB to follow through on its threat to nix Opening Day.

Union chief Tony Clark, speaking at a news conference later Tuesday, said the players "remain committed to the bargaining process and getting back on the field as soon as possible."

"Players want to play; everyone knows that," Clark said. "But the reason we are not playing is simple: A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon. In a $10 billion industry, the owners have made a conscious decision to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have: the players. But the group won't be intimidated. I've seen more unity over the last few years than at any time in our recent history."

At 5:10 p.m. ET Tuesday, Manfred issued a statement that many fans had been dreading: nothing to look forward to on Opening Day, normally a spring standard of renewal for fans throughout the United States and Canada.

The ninth work stoppage in baseball history will be the fifth that causes regular-season games to be canceled, leaving Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium as quiet in the next month as Joker Marchant Stadium and Camelback Ranch have been during the third straight disrupted spring training.

"The concerns of our fans are at the very top of our consideration list," Manfred said.

In a statement, the union said it was "not surprised" by the outcome.

"Rob Manfred and MLB's owners have cancelled the start of the season," the MLBPA said. "Players and fans around the world who love baseball are disgusted, but sadly not surprised.

"From the beginning of these negotiations, Players' objectives have been consistent -- to promote competition, provide fair compensation for young Players, and to uphold the integrity of our market system. Against the backdrop of growing revenues and record profits, we are seeking nothing more than a fair agreement.

"What Rob Manfred characterized as a 'defensive lockout' is, in fact, the culmination of a decades-long attempt by owners to break our Player fraternity. As in the past, this effort will fail. We are united and committed to negotiating a fair deal that will improve the sport for Players, fans and everyone who loves our game."

The union said later Tuesday that it will push for canceled games to be rescheduled when talks resume.

"To say they won't reschedule games if games are canceled or they won't pay players for those games that are canceled is solely their position," union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer said of the league. "They're not legally required to take those positions. ... We would have a different position."

The lockout, in its 90th day, will plunge a sport staggered by the coronavirus pandemic and afflicted by numerous on-field issues into a self-inflicted hiatus over the inability of players and owners to divide a $10 billion industry. By losing regular-season games, scrutiny will fall even more intensely on Manfred, the commissioner since January 2015, and Clark, the former All-Star first baseman who became union leader when Michael Weiner died in November 2013.

"Manfred gotta go," tweeted Chicago Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman.

The bulk of fan ire on social media was aimed at Manfred, who was spotted practicing his golf swing between bargaining sessions by an Associated Press photographer Tuesday. Others were upset that Manfred was laughing and jovial with reporters at his news conference announcing the cancellation.

"Have no clue how he has the ability to laugh about anything right now," Los Angeles Angels pitcher Michael Lorenzen tweeted. "Mind is blown."

Past stoppages were based on issues such as a salary cap, free-agent compensation and pensions.

This fight was years in the making, with players angered that payrolls decreased by 4% from 2015 through last year. Many teams jettisoned a portion of veteran journeymen with high-priced contracts in favor of youth with lower-priced contracts, and some clubs gave up on competing in the short term to better position themselves for future years.

"This is not just about shifting pieces of the pie around," free-agent pitcher Andrew Miller said. "This is about getting the game that we love to work and operate effectively and perform and let us focus on what we like to do."

The sport will be upended by its second shortened season in three years. The 2020 schedule was cut from 162 games to 60 because of the pandemic, a decision players filed a grievance over and still are litigating. This disruption will create another issue if 15 days of the season are wiped out: Stars such as Shohei Ohtani, Pete Alonso, Jake Cronenworth and Jonathan India would be delayed an extra year from free agency.

Players would lose $20.5 million in salary for each day of the season that is canceled, according to an AP study, and the 30 teams would lose large sums that are harder to pin down. Members of the union's executive subcommittee stand to lose the most, with Max Scherzer forfeiting $232,975 for each regular-season day lost and Gerrit Cole $193,548.

Scherzer and Miller were present for talks. Both stopped to sign autographs for fans as they left Roger Dean Stadium, the vacant spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins where negotiations have been held since the start of last week.

The first 86 games of the 1973 season were canceled by a strike over pension negotiations. The 1981 season was fractured by a 50-day midseason strike over free-agency compensation rules that canceled 713 games. And a strike that started in August 1994 over management's attempt to gain a salary cap canceled the final 669 games and led to a three-week delay of the 1995 season, when schedules were cut from 162 games to 144.

"We're prepared," Miller said. "We've seen this coming, in a sense. It's unfortunate, but this isn't new. This is not shocking."

Players and owners entered deadline day far apart on many key issues and unresolved on others. The most contentious proposals involve luxury tax thresholds and rates, the size of a new bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, minimum salaries, salary arbitration eligibility, and the union's desire to change the club revenue-sharing formula.

While the differences had narrowed in recent days, the sides remained apart, with how far apart depending on the point of view.

MLB proposed raising the luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $220 million in each of the next three seasons, $224 million in 2025 and $230 million in 2026. Players asked for $238 million this year, $244 million in 2023, $250 million in 2024, $256 million in 2025 and $263 million in 2026.

"We have a payroll disparity problem,'' Manfred said, "and to weaken the only mechanism in the agreement that's designed to promote some semblance of competitive balance is just something that I don't think the club group is prepared to do right now."

Said Scherzer: "We're seeing it act as a salary cap. The  San Diego Padres have [a] higher payroll than the New York Yankees."

MLB proposed $25 million annually for a new bonus pool for pre-arbitration players, and the union dropped from $115 million to $85 million for this year, with $5 million yearly increases.

"There's dollars to be allocated toward them that would fairly compensate their contributions on the field, more so than what's on the table," Scherzer said.

The league also increased its proposal for minimum salaries from $675,000 to $700,000, moving up $10,000 per year. Those figures are based on there being an increase to 12 postseason teams and the addition of five lottery slots in the draft. The union asked for $725,000 this year, $745,000 in 2023, $765,000 in 2024 and increases for 2025 and 2026 based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners.

"The last five years have been very difficult years from a revenue perspective for the industry given the pandemic," Manfred said.

Information from ESPN's Jesse Rogers and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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