If they weren’t already here, this week the first pitchers and catchers would have showed up at American Family Fields of Phoenix ahead of the official opening of Major League Baseball’s spring training camps on Feb. 15. Instead, the facility’s training grounds and training spaces will remain largely quiet and could be for some time.
Monday, Feb. 7, is the 67th day since the owners locked out the players following the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement with the MLBPA, and progress toward a new deal has been slow at best: After the lockout, the owners did not make an offer. for six weeks, then held only a handful of meetings that were widely reported on using words like “controversial” and “heated”, and said many of the players’ top priorities were non-negotiable.
While both teams still have time to figure things out, early spring practice games are in serious jeopardy at this point and the first weeks of the season aren’t far behind them. The Brewers have played only four abbreviated but completed seasons in their 53-year franchise history (plus the 1994 season, which was cut short in August and not completed). Those four seasons could serve as a precedent should a work stoppage encroach on the start of the 2022 schedule, so what follows is a look back at what happened, what worked and what didn’t.
What happened: A dispute over MLB’s pension plan (it was previously funded as part of the league’s national TV revenue, but owners refused to disclose terms of new TV contracts) led to a players’ strike that wiped out the first week of the MLB season. . A total of 83 games were canceled before the season opener on April 15, with teams starting the schedule where they were supposed to be that day.
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Set of precedents: The brief nature of this work stoppage and the fact that baseball was back in mid-April means that this abbreviated season is often a footnote, if mentioned at all, in the larger story of the baseball labor relations. Although this strike was a turning point in the history of the MLBPA (as documented in Dayn Perry of CBS Sports‘ recent look back at the events of the year), the work stoppage did not have a lasting impact on the public narrative around the game.
What didn’t work: Because the teams simply resumed where they would have been on April 15, the schedules were both uneven and unfair. That issue led to a controversial result in the American League East, where the Tigers claimed first place in the playoffs after playing one more game than the Red Sox, who finished the season tied with Detroit in the loss column. Given this memory, it is likely that future abbreviated schedules, if necessary, will be reconstructed to ensure teams play the same number of games.
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What happened: A dispute over compensation for teams that lost players in free agency led to a seven-week strike from mid-June to July. The owners had sought to set up a “free agent draft”, where a team losing a player to free agency would be able to sign a player away from their former player’s new team. A total of 713 games, more than a third of the schedule, were canceled due to the strike and when play resumed a unique playoff structure was created where the leaders of each division from the first and second half would face off in the very first. “Division Series” and determine which teams qualified for the Championship Series round.
Set of precedents: While the 1981 season was dramatically shortened and the changes to the sport in the playoffs were unprecedented, the end result proved that fans and historians would still treat the result of an unusual season as legitimate. Despite major changes to the structure of the season and playoffs, there are no asterisks in the record books next to the Dodgers’ World Series victory this year.
What didn’t work: Rewarding the best team in the first and second half in each division had an unintended consequence: In the National League, the two teams with the best overall records in their divisions, the Cardinals and the Reds, each missed the playoffs. playoffs because they had not led either halves. . The eventual World Series Dodgers champion would not have made the playoffs under the sport’s usual playoff format.
What happened: The players’ strike that abruptly ended the 1994 season and led to the cancellation of the World Series was not resolved in time for the 1995 season to open as scheduled. The regular season did not begin until April 26, and 18 games were removed from each team’s schedule.
Set of precedents: Despite all the hostility the sport had aroused during the strike, the shortened season is still seen as legitimate and its results are neither questioned nor treated differently from other campaigns. Like 1972, this season demonstrates that a relatively small delay to the start of the season is unlikely to have a lasting impact on the narrative around the game.
What didn’t work: While the 1995 schedule was not a disaster, the biggest story of the season was the aftermath and remaining bad feelings toward the sport since the abrupt end of 1994. All MLB teams at the time , all but three saw attendance per game decline in 1995, with a median decrease of over 6,000 fans per game, or around 25% of tickets sold. The aftermath of 1994 sets a chilling precedent for what it might look like afterward if a work stoppage drags on.
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What happened: A global pandemic suddenly interrupted spring training in March and the break extended until July, when teams held brief “summer camps” in preparation for a 60-game schedule played in empty stadiums.
Set of precedents: The biggest takeaway from the 2020 season might be how quickly teams were able to move from “home” to opening day. The players did not report to their respective teams’ training camps until July 1 and no on-field training was allowed until July 3, but the season opened just 20 days later, the July 23. Using this schedule at a minimum, the 2022 season could be achievable. will still start on time if an agreement is reached on a new collective bargaining agreement by around March 8 and 10.
What didn’t work: Empty stadium matches and a wildly lopsided schedule that effectively split the sport into three pods are unlikely to be repeated in anything other than an extreme scenario. Two of the special rules adapted for this season, seven inning games for doubles and the start of a runner on second base in extra innings, continued into 2021 but are not expected to remain in 2022.