"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Peace On Earth And Good Will Toward Bud

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr have been vilified for a laundry list of reasons over the last two decades, often for good reason. But when the first post-strike Basic Agreement expired in late 2002, the players and owners averted a work stoppage for the first time since 1970, reaching an agreement right at the August 31 deadline. Last night, Selig and Fehr appeared at Busch Stadium in St. Louis just before Game 3 of the World Series to announce that, with the 2002 agreement set to expire in December 19, they’ve not only avoided a work stoppage yet again, but they’ve beaten the deadline by nearly two months.

More impressively, despite last night’s game being something of a snoozer (a 5-0 Cardinals win behind a dominant outing from Chris Carpenter), the news of the new agreement appears to have been something of an afterthought to the mainstream media this morning. As well it should be. A dozen years after the World Series was cancelled as a result of what was then the longest work stoppage in professional sports history (thanks NHL!), order has finally been restored with the game on the field stealing the headlines from what, given the history* of labor strife in the sport, is actually a far more remarkable event. While it’s clear that timing of this announcement was in no way coincidental (Selig’s has had the specter of the 1994 World Series hanging over his head throughout his commissionership and is clearly still desperate to exorcise it), it remains apt. Though it is somewhat contradictory to do so, I think Selig and Fehr deserve to be celebrated for conducting this round of labor negotiations outside of the media spotlight, and for allowing the new agreement to be brushed aside by the media as a boring business story secondary to the game itself.

That said, a new labor agreement is big news, regardless of the temperature of the fire in which it was forged. The full agreement hasn’t been posted yet (though once it is, it will likely appear here), but here are a few highlights as cribbed from the official press release.

  • The new agreement will last through the 2011 season, expiring on December 11, 2011. The five-year agreement is the longest in baseball’s labor history*.
  • The deadlines for teams to resign departing free agents who have not been offered or have rejected salary arbitration have been eliminated, allowing all 30 teams to negotiate with free agents on equal terms.
  • Free agent compensation has been rolled back. Teams will have to surrender compensatory draft picks for Type A free agents only, with Type A being redefined at the top 20 percent of the free agent pool (was the top 30 percent). Teams losing Type B free agents (correspondingly redefined as players from 21-40 percent–was 31-50) will be compensated with supplemental round picks only. There is no longer any compensation for teams losing Type C free agents.
  • Players traded in the middle of multi-year contracts are no longer allowed to demand a trade from their new team. (Existing multi-year contracts are grandfathered, allowing a player already under a multi-year contract to demand a trade only if dealt during the term of his current contract.)
  • All amateur draft picks (with the exception of college seniors) must be signed by August 15. Teams that are unable to sign first or second round picks by that deadline will get the identical pick the next year as compensation. Teams unable to sign third round picks will get supplemental round picks between the third and fourth rounds the following year.
  • Minor leaguers are bound to their organizations for an extra year before becoming eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
  • No teams will be contracted during the term of the agreement.

*A Quick History of Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining (simplified from this):

  • 1954: Major League Baseball Players Association officially recognized as a bargaining unit. Judge Robert Cannon is the union’s part-time executive director.
  • 1965: Marvin Miller replaces Cannon and becomes the MLBPA’s first full-time executive director.
  • 1968: First Basic Agreement signed, raising the major league minimum (to $10,000) as well as laying out a formal structure for labor relations.
  • 1970: Second Basic Agreement introduces independent grievance arbitration, the key decision that will ultimately lead to free agency in 1975.
  • 1972: Negotiations for the Third Basic Agreement result in the first work stoppage in Major League history. The players strike for 14 days in early April, eventually winning salary arbitration and an increase in pension.
  • 1976: Negotiations over the Fourth Basic Agreement lead the owners to lock the players out for 17 days during spring training. The Basic Agreement signed that summer grants the players free agency for the first time, a concession made as a result of the independent arbitration case won the previous winter by Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, which invalidated the reserve clause.
  • 1980: Negotiations over the Fifth Basic Agreement lead to an eight-day player strike at the end of spring training. A new four-year agreement is signed, but the issue of free agent compensation will remain on the table until the following year.
  • 1981: A 50-day player strike divides the season in half. Ultimately, free agent compensation is introduced and the Fifth Basic Agreement is extended an extra year.
  • 1982: Ken Moffett replaces the retiring Marvin Miller as executive director of the MLBPA.
  • 1983: Moffett is fired by the players and replaced by Don Fehr.
  • 1985: Negotiations over the Sixth Basic Agreement lead to a two-day player strike in August. A new four-year deal is struck in which the owners drop free agent compensation in exchange for an extra year of service prior to salary arbitration eligibility, which will now occur after three full years of service. The missed games are rescheduled.
  • 1990: The owners are found guilty of colluding not to sign free agents from 1985-1987. Negotiations for the Seventh Basic Agreement lead the owners to lock the players out of Spring Training for 32 days. Commissioner Fay Vincent intercedes and forces the owners to drop all of their demands as well as instate a new level of salary arbitration eligibility for players with between two and three years of service. The move poisons the relationship between Vincent and the owners and eventually leads to his ouster and the appointment of Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig to the position of interim commissioner in 1992.
  • 1993: Players and owners agree to extend negotiations for the Eighth Basic Agreement into the 1994 season.
  • 1994: Negotiations over the Eighth Basic Agreement, specifically over a salary cap, lead to a player strike that takes effect on August 12 and wipes out the remainder of the season and the entire postseason.
  • 1995: The owners attempt to begin the season with replacement players, but the MLBPA files a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, which forces the owners to allow the players to play under the terms of the Seventh (1990) Basic Agreement. Reduced to 144 games, the season finally starts on April 26.
  • 1998: The Eighth Basic Agreement is finally put into effect, introducing revenue sharing and luxury tax for the first time. Bud Selig is promoted from interim to official commissioner.
  • 2002: The Ninth Basic Agreement is settled at the last minute, averting a work stoppage for the first time since the second agreement (the players had set a strike date for the day the new agreement is announced). The agreement introduces the game’s first performance enhancing drug testing program.
  • 2005: In an unprecedented move, the owners and player reopen the Basic Agreement to increase the penalty schedule associated with drug testing, not once but twice.
  • 2006: The Tenth Basic Agreement is settled nearly two months ahead of the deadline, again avoiding a work stoppage.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver