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Lockouts, Strikes, and the CBA: A Cheat Sheet

Here’s what you need to know about work stoppages in professional baseball.

Marlins by Enchateddrmzceo is licensed under CC BY SA-3.0

Lockouts, Strikes, and the CBA: A Cheat Sheet


Estimated Reading Time: 2 Minutes

At midnight on Thursday morning, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the league had enacted a lockout in the wake of the expired collective bargaining agreement between clubs and players.

What does this mean? Essentially, all baseball activities must stop. Teams can’t make any trades or sign new players, and players themselves can’t enter team facilities. At first blush, this situation feels faintly similar to the infamous strike in 1994 that ultimately canceled the World Series. And it is. But also, it isn’t. This is a lockout, not a strike. And while both result in work stoppages, they aren’t as interchangeable of terms as you might think.

Let’s break it down.

The lockout that began this week is the 9th work stoppage in professional baseball since the 1960s when the MLBPA was formally recognized as a union for the players. Over the years, stoppages are induced by either strikes or lockouts. To put it simply, strikes are initiated by the players in an outright refusal to work. A lockout is basically the opposite. The league “locks out” the players and prevents any baseball activities from continuing.

Why are there strikes and lockouts?

Typically, players strike or the league initiates a lockout in order to put pressure on the other side during negotiations related to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA. The CBA is the set of rules for employment and financial compensation that the league and its players agree upon. These agreements have expiration dates and get renewed every several years. Pretty much all work stoppages in baseball have been initiated by an expired CBA and stalled negotiations between the league and players on signing a new one.

What are the issues at the center of the strikes and lockouts?

Dayn Perry provides a great history of work stoppages in baseball for those who want more detail. But to answer this question briefly, issues that have initiated work stoppages have included the terms of free agency, pension contributions, and salary arbitration. The most recent work stoppage, the 1994 players’ strike, was a battle over the institution of a salary cap.

Today, we are witnessing another lockout initiated by the league following an expired CBA. The players and league are nowhere near reaching compromises on a host of issues. Namely, players are unhappy with a stagnate average salary, “tanking” by teams who benefit from revenue sharing, and the manipulation of player service time by teams to prevent them from reaching free agency sooner.

To sum it all up in a single word: money.

So we’re in a lockout. What happens now?

For the immediate future, not much. Players will work out on their own and club activities have to remain on hold. Since this is technically the offseason, players aren’t missing out on any paychecks yet.

Fans, on the other hand, can only play the waiting game for updates on negotiations between the league and MLBPA. When those negotiations take place, or how well they go, is anyone’s guess. But Manfred admitted that the league enacted the lockout so early in the offseason as to hopefully avoid messing with the 2022 regular season. But neither the league nor the MLBPA has provided a deadline for when a deal will be reached.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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