Labor peace in our time
It has been 17 years since Major League Baseball and the players union learned their big lesson about the importance of compromise, but it is a gift that keeps on giving to baseball fans while the other major sports -- most notably the NBA -- continue to push their disputes to the brink.
Baseball has again achieved a lengthy period of labor peace by quietly working out a new five-year deal that includes the first mandatory HGH testing by a major sports league, limits on spending on international and drafted players and an increase in the number of playoff teams to 10. I'm not that high on the new one-game wild card playoff round -- a best-of-three series would give each team at least one home game -- but I am high on the fact that we don't have to hear any more scary labor talk at least until late in this decade.
Baseball went to war with its union in 1994 and '95 and damaged its image with the fans so thoroughly that it took Cal Ripken's march to the all-time consecutive games record in 1995 and several years of steroid-pumped homermania to bring them back to pre-stoppage levels. The lessons learned from the steroid era also contributed to a greater appreciation on both sides of the importance of working together to stay on top of the technological advances in the production and masking of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Congratulations to MLPBA executive director Michael Weiner for taking a less confrontational approach to this latest set of labor negotiations. Former union chief Don Fehr did a great job of protecting the rights of the players and staving off a strong effort by the owners to institute a hard salary cap, but the union has taken a less confrontational approach over the past decade and made some reasonable compromises to help achieve more parity between the large and small market franchises.
The thing I find most encouraging about this latest agreement is the recognition by the players that enhanced testing for PED's is actually in their best interests. I wouldn't want to be subjected to random blood testing, but the union has compromised for the good of the sport and the good health of its members.
The new rules governing spending on international and drafted players are complicated, involving slotting rules and luxury taxes based on revenues and won-loss records, but they are a step toward narrowing the huge advantage some clubs have in acquiring amateur players. That should help teams like the Orioles and Pirates compete for top international talent, but there is still no substitute for strong scouting and a well-run player development department.
The new agreement also calls for a "competitive balance lottery" which will give small-market teams extra picks in the draft and revamps the rules governing free agency and salary arbitration. There's a lot to digest in the new agreement, so we'll focus on some of the particulars in later posts.
Right now, it should be enough just to know that it's settled.