Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced a league lockout Thursday, but said he hopes to "avoid damage" to the 2022 season. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association failed to complete a new labor agreement before the expiration of the previous pact, leading team owners to enforce the first work stoppage since 1994-95.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the lockout, which was anticipated, early Thursday in a letter address to fans. The lockout ends a flood of signings and trades, which occurred over the last few weeks.
The lockout, a tool used by owners to stop employees from working until a new labor agreement is completed, means team officials and players can't communicate in any manner. Free agency and trades also came to an abrupt halt.
Manfred said $1.7 billion was committed to free agents in November, beating the previous record.
The stoppage followed days of bargaining between the union and league. Manfred requested fans' continued support for the game of baseball amid the dead period.
"Despite the league's best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labor peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired," Manfred wrote. "Therefore, we have been forced to commence a lockout of Major League players, effective at 12:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 2."
Manfred said the lockout does "not necessarily mean games will be canceled." He said MLB owners took the step to accelerate the urgency for an agreement "with as much runway as possible" to avoid damaging the 2022 season.
"Delaying this process further would only put Spring Training, Opening Day, and the rest of the season further at risk -- and we cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994," Manfred wrote. "We all owe you, our fans, better than that."
The players union called the shutdown a "dramatic measure, regardless of the timing."
"It was the [team] owners' choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just players, but the game and industry as a whole," the union said in its statement.
"These tactics are not new. We have been here before, and players have risen to the occasion time and again -- guided by a solidarity that has been forged over generations. We will do so again here.
"We remain determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated collective bargaining agreement that is fair to all parties, and provides fans with the best version of the game we all love."
The 1994-95 MLB work stoppage lasted 232 days. The 1994 MLB season started April 3, ended early on Aug. 11 and did not feature a postseason. Former commissioner Bud Selig officially canceled the season Sept. 14, after a 34-day player strike.
The 1995 season was delayed by nearly a month due to that stoppage. That season featured 144 games, instead of the standard 162.
Thursday's lockout marks the ninth work stoppage and fourth lockout in league history. The last three lockouts did not lead to any canceled regular-season games. The 1990 lockout eliminated the majority of Spring Training and delayed the regular season by one week.
Players' requested improvements include: earlier compensation for younger players, a higher luxury tax threshold, reduced revenue sharing among teams and other measures to force teams to be more competitive.
Owners also want to improve the league's competitive balance, but through different measures. Those proposals have included: an NBA-like lottery format for the MLB Draft, a playroll floor and a lower luxury tax threshold, slight increases to the luxury tax threshold with no floor, expanded playoffs and more.
"This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players' resolve to reach a fair contract," MLB Players' Association executive director Tony Clark said in a statement.
"We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership."
Opening Day is scheduled for March 31 for the 2021 season.