Major League Baseball in Crisis

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Sun, 05/12/2021
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It may be the off-season for Major League Baseball (MLB), but that has not prevented the sport undergoing a crisis.

For the first time in over a quarter of a century, the teams, and the players it employs are at complete loggerheads after a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the two parties expired.

And there is no sign of an early resolution either. The last time the two sides met, it took just seven minutes for them to break off negotiations, citing irreconcilable differences.

As things currently stand, clubs cannot sign trade or release existing players, or offer new contracts to existing ones. The players themselves are not even allowed, officially at least, to communicate with their teams, although they are permitted to train alone.

MLB’s own website has dropped its usual context of news and analysis of current players in favour of articles focussing on the history of the sport.

With the 2022 season not due to start until the end of March, that is not yet under threat. However, the longer the impasse goes on, the greater the chance that it will be delayed.

There are a number of issues dividing the two parties. These include extending the Designated Hitter (DH rule) to the National League, and the number of teams which will take part in post-season. They are also at loggerheads over the time at which players become eligible for salary arbitration and free agency.

The last time baseball found itself in this situation was in the 1994/95 season when the owners, faced with a worsening financial situation, collectively proposed a salary cap to their players. 

The players responded by going on strike, resulting in the cancellation of the rest of the 1994 season, including post-season, and the World Series, for the first time since 1904. 

The strike lasted 232 days before it was suspended in April of the following year, making it, at the time, the longest work stoppage in major league professional sports.

In all, 948 games were cancelled.

As part of the term of the settlement of that dispute, players and owners were bound by the terms of the CBA, but, with its expiration this time, a new stand-off has begun.