Fortunately, it’s over.
And, yes, no more ghost runners and seven-inning double-headers.
Baseball is back, with the 99-day lockout officially ending Thursday, leaving just one question:
What took so long?
“I think we’ve made a deal,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “when it was possible to make a deal.
Three people with direct knowledge of the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports but were not authorized to speak publicly, said it was a deal that certainly could have been done before the Dec. 1 lockout at midnight.
Again, he really never had a chance.
There was too much animosity, mistrust and outright hatred between the two sides, with outside influences sabotaging the momentum towards an agreement.
It was all revealed to the world in the last 24 hours when the deal nearly collapsed due to the international draft. MLB insisted 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 MLB never even asked for the draft.
Before you know it, Hall of Famer David Ortiz was involved. Just like the Pedro Martinez Hall of Famer. Officers weighed in. Club officials too.
The international draft was dead on arrival.
The bitter dispute threatened to completely derail any hope of reaching an agreement. When the union refused to accept any of MLB’s options to accept, decline or delay a decision on the draft before the 6 p.m. deadline, Manfred immediately announced the cancellation of another week of games.
The union returned a response about 20 minutes later, offering to postpone a decision until November 15 in exchange for two years of undrafted selection compensation.
MLB saw the answer late at night, but the damage had already been done.
In the morning, the two parties reached a quick compromise. The union will have until July 25 to accept or reject an international draft from 2024, and if rejected, there would continue to be free agency draft compensation.
This opened the door for further negotiations, with MLB preparing a written response within two hours, proposing to increase the pre-arbitration bonus pool from $10 million to $50 million. It increased the last year of salary arbitration to $244 million. He raised the minimum wage 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 p.m. ET deadline.
The union convened its sub-executive committee and informed the players’ representatives to solicit their teammates for a vote.
The eight-person executive subcommittee, featuring 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 is now insisting the union drop its $700 million grievance for only playing 60 games during the COVID-shortened season.
The proposal met all their needs with a $100 million salary increase for young players with the minimum wage increase and the pre-arbitration bonus pool, a lottery project to help curb tanking, bonuses to help prevent teams from manipulating service time, and even agreed to only expand the playoffs to 12 teams instead of 14.
Yet the subcommittee felt that was not enough.
They strongly recommended that their fellow players reject him, but found that very few players agreed, especially young players who earned little more than minimum wage. They voted overwhelmingly to accept the deal by a vote of 26 to 4, with the only teams voting against the deal being the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Houston Astros and Chicago Cardinals. St. Louis. Each of these four teams had players on the executive committee.
Now it was up to the owners to ratify the deal. There were four teams that weren’t in favor of their proposal a week ago, and now the luxury thresholds had gone even higher, possibly inviting more teams to veto the deal. Manfred still needed 23 of 30 teams to approve.
This time the vote was unanimous, 30-0, and at 6:24 p.m. ET, Major League Baseball had a new collective bargaining agreement, clubs and players had a 162-game season, and fans had their game back.
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If the case had collapsed?
“We were going to miss a lot of time,” Manfred said.
“I don’t think we would have played any games,” said an MLB executive, “until June. … If we were lucky.”
Just minutes after the deal was officially ratified, Manfred took to the podium at the MLB offices in New York and immediately apologized to the fans.
“I know the last few months have been tough,” Manfred said. “There is a lot of uncertainty, at a time when there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. [It’s] a bit like the collective bargaining process sometimes works, but I apologize for that.
“One of the benefits of collective bargaining is that it gives our players the opportunity to have a say in what their workplace and the game will look like in the future. And they have taken full advantage the opportunity to provide this input during these negotiations.
“Our players are great, great athletes. I respect them. And I respect the input we’ve received from them during this process.”
Now comes the hardest part, trying to create a relationship with the players that burned and restore the shine and beauty of the game.
Manfred phoned union executive director Tony Clark on Thursday afternoon and promised to start rebuilding.
“I told him I thought we had a great opportunity for the game ahead of us,” Manfred said, “and told him I hoped to work with him on things that are new in the deal… More generally, to seize the opportunity which, I think, is offered to us.
There will be a time when Manfred goes around again and visits spring training camps and ballparks. He will face the same players who publicly ridiculed him, mocked him, calling him “Manclown” to “Manfraud” to vile obscenities.
“One of the things I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players,” Manfred said. “I tried to do that. I think I failed at that. I think it starts with small steps. That’s why I picked up the phone after ratification and expressed my desire to work with him.
“It will be a priority for me to try to keep the commitment I made on the phone.”
Thankfully, the ugly negotiations are over and baseball is back on track, with players showing up for camp this weekend, spring training games starting in a week, and Opening Day April 7.
Now there is a new battle to be won, to form a true partnership to grow gaming in this $11 billion industry and restore its bloody image.
“I believe, I hope, the players will see the effort we have made to address their concerns in this agreement,” Manfred said, “as an olive branch in terms of building a better relationship. We’ve built some processes into this agreement where we’re going to interact more regularly. I think those opportunities for positive interaction help build a better relationship.”
It’s better to start now, because in five years, when this CBA expires, there’s no one left who wants to endure something like that.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.