As you all know, MLB and the MLBPA are apparently close to a new labor deal. What’s that, you say? You didn’t know? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. MLB’s labor negotiations have largely gone under the radar mediawise. And since conflict usually generates “juicier” news than when people get along, there’s not an awful lot of reason for MLB’s labor talks to get more publicity than the vicious ones the NBA has been involved in.
The irony here is that MLB used to have easily the worst relationship with its players’ union of all the Big Four sports leagues. MLB fought against free agency until the federal courts overruled them, the 1981 season was drastically shortened by a strike and in 1994, the World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years because of another strike. But 17 years after that strike, MLB and the union agree on drug testing, they just agreed to switch the Houston Astros from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013 and introduce two new Wild Card teams and the owners haven’t seriously tried to institute a salary cap in years.
The reason for this change, as far as I can tell, is that like the NHL, MLB actually went through a devastating work stoppage. Not a short one like MLB in 1981 or the NHL in 1995 or the NBA in 1999. A real work stoppage like what the NHL had in 2004, one that cancelled a league championship and focused negative publicity and public frustration at players and owners alike.
When you’ve actually been through the “nuclear winter” of sports, to use David Stern’s charming little phrase, it’s a little harder to go through with it again.