It is mercifully over.
No more rhetoric.
No more threats.
No more deadlines.
And, yes, no more ghost runners and seven-inning doubleheaders.
baseball is back, with the 99-day lockout officially ending Thursdayleaving only one question:
What took so long?
“I think we made an agreement,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “when it was possible to make an agreement.”
Three persons with direct knowledge of the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports but weren’t authorized to speak publicly, said it was a deal that definitely could have been made before the midnight Dec. 1 lockout.
Then again, it really never had a chance.
There was too much animosity, distrust, and sheer hatred between the two sides, with outside influences sabotaging momentum towards a deal.
It was all revealed for all of the world to see in the final 24 hours when the deal nearly collapsed because of the international draft. MLB insisted that the union had already agreed to have a draft in exchange for no draft compensation for free agents from a private conversation between Manfred and chief union negotiator Bruce Meyer. The union vehemently denied it, saying that MLB never even asked for the draft.
Before you knew it, Hall of Famer David Ortiz was involved. So was Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. Agents weighed in. So did club officials.
The international draft was dead on arrival.
The bitter dispute threatened to completely derail any hopes of reaching a deal. When the union declined to accept any of MLB’s options to either accept, decline or delay a decision on the draft by the 6 pm deadline, Manfred immediately announced the cancellation of another week of games.
The union sent back a response about 20 minutes later, offering to delay a decision until Nov. 15 in exchange for two years of non-draft pick compensation.
MLB saw the response late that night, but the damage had already been done.
By the morning, the two sides reached a quick compromise. The union will have until July 25 to accept or reject an international draft beginning in 2024, and if it’s rejected, there would continue to be draft pick compensation in free agency.
It opened the door for negotiations to continue, with MLB preparing a written response within two hours, offering to raise the pre-arbitration bonus pool by $10 million to $50 million. It increased the final year of salary arbitration to $244 million. It raised the minimum salary by $10,000 in 2026 to $780,000.
MLB told the union it was a “take-it-or-leave-it offer.”
And, oh yes, the union had a 3 pm ET deadline.
The union gathered their executive subcommittee together and informed the player representatives to canvasses their teammates for a vote.
The eight-person executive subcommittee, with the likes of All-Stars Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Lindor – including five players represented by agent Scott Boras – voted 8-0 against the deal. They thought the revenue-sharing thresholds were too low. They were angry that MLB was now insisting that the union drop its $700 million grievance for playing only 60 games during the COVID-shortened season.
The proposal addressed all of their needs with a $100 million pay increase for young players with the minimum salary raise and pre-arbitration bonus pool, a draft lottery to help curb tanking, bonuses to help stop teams from manipulating service time, and even agreed to only expand the postseason to 12 teams instead of 14.
Still, the subcommittee thought it wasn’t good enough.
They strongly recommended to their fellow players to reject it, but discovered that precious few players agreed, particularly the young players who have made much more than the minimum salary. They voted overwhelmingly to accept the deal by a 26-4 vote, with the only teams voting against the agreement being the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. Each of those four teams had players on the executive committee.
Now, all that was left was for the owners to ratify the deal. There were four teams who weren’t in favor of their proposal a week ago, and now the luxury thresholds had gotten even higher, inviting perhaps more teams to veto the deal. Manfred still needed 23 of the 30 teams to approve.
This time, the vote was unanimous, 30-0, and at 6:24 pm ET, Major League Baseball had a new collective bargaining agreement, the clubs and players had a 162-game season, and the fans had their game back.
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If the deal had collapsed?
“We were going to miss a lot of time,” Manfred said.
How much time?
“I don’t think we would have been playing games,” one MLB executive said, “until June. … If we were lucky.”
It took just minutes after the deal was officially ratified when Manfred stepped to the podium in MLB’s New York offices, and immediately apologized to the fans.
“I know that the last few months have been difficult,” Manfred said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, at a point in time when there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world. [It’s] sort of the way the process of collective bargaining works sometimes, but I do apologize for it.
“One of the good things about collective bargaining is that it gives our players an opportunity to have input on what their workplace and the game is going to look like going forward. And they took full opportunity to provide that input during these negotiations.
“Our players are great, great athletes. I respect them. And I respect the input that we received from them during this process.”
Now comes the hard part, trying to create a relationship with the players that has burned to the ground, and restoring the game’s luster and beauty.
Manfred telephoned union executive director Tony Clark on Thursday afternoon and vowed to start the rebuild.
“I told him that I thought we had a great opportunity for the game in front of us,” Manfred said, “and told him that I hope to work with him on things that are new in the agreement … More generally, on seizing the opportunity that I think is in front of us.”
There will be a time when Manfred again will make the rounds and visit spring training camps and ballparks. He will be facing the same players who publicly ridiculed him, mocked him, calling him everything from “Manclown” to “Manfraud” to vile obscenities.
“One of the things that I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players,” Manfred said. “I’ve tried to do that. I think that I have not been successful in that. I think that begins with small steps. It’s why I picked up the phone after the ratification and expressed my desire to work with him.
“It’s going to be a priority of mine moving forward to try to make good on the commitment I made on the phone.”
the ugly negotiations mercifully are overand baseball is back, with players reporting to camp this weekend, spring-training games starting in a week, and opening day on April 7.
Now, there’s a new battle that must be won, forming a genuine partnership to grow the game in this $11 billion industry, and restoring its bloodied image.
“I do believe, I hope, that the players will see the effort we made to address their concerns in this agreement,” Manfred said, “as an olive branch in terms of building a better relationship. We built some processes into this agreement where we’re going to be interacting more regularly. I think those opportunities for positive interaction help to build a better relationship.”
It better start now, because in five years when this CBA expires, there’s not a soul who wants to endure anything like this ever again.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @bnightengale.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism