New labor deal lacks usual rancor
Player, league harmony reflects booming business
ST. LOUIS -- Labor peace is good for baseball and baseball is going to have labor peace through 2011.
Both sides, labor and management, announced on Tuesday that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement had been reached between Major League Baseball and the Players Association. For baseball, the contemporary era has become the good old days of labor relations.
There had been eight work stoppages in baseball between 1972 and 1994, when the most damaging impasse occurred. The 2002 contract talks in New York went to the brink of an Aug. 30 strike deadline called by the players. But four years ago, that contract was settled for the first time without a strike or lockout. And this time, the negotiations were settled peacefully without a deadline looming, nearly two months before the current agreement expired.
In the previous two decades up to the 1994 strike that wiped out a World Series, the negotiations were characterized by public acrimony between the two parties. There was typically considerable sniping between the sides and baseball fans, who wanted to be concerned with RBIs and ERAs, were instead treated to the spectacle of the players and the owners bickering incessantly in public. It was a process that was bound to alienate the very people whose support was essential to the game's success.
It should have all been changed. Now it all has been changed.
Labor and management should be working in concert, rather than being at odds. The game has never been more popular, based on attendance figures. And the game has never been more prosperous. MLB's annual revenue has risen to $5.2 billion this season, while the average player salary was $2.8 million. Both are records.
And when the official announcement of the new CBA, which extends into December of 2011, was made on Tuesday at new Busch Stadium, both sides were together on the issues and together on the process. A new deal had been forged, with a complete absence of public debate or division.
The new deal, Commissioner Bud Selig noted, was achieved "without the usual rancor, without the usual dueling press conferences."
Donald Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, said the negotiations were "very workmanlike, very pragmatic, very day-to-day."
"One of the great problems in past negotiations, from our standpoint, ownership was fractionalized, angry -- angry at each other, always angry at the Commissioner, angry at the players," Selig said. "There was none of that this time.
"When you have a goal and you do this with the kind of respect and professionalism that didn't exist here for a long time, this is a wonderful day and, quite frankly, this is a wonderful story."
The players, who in the past made up one of the warring factions, this time around, were voicing satisfaction about the way the agreement was reached.
"Labor peace is good for the game," said infielder Craig Counsell, a member of the union bargaining committee. "Interest is at an all-time high. We feel like when the focus is on the field, it's good for baseball and it's good for us, as well. This time around, the atmosphere was completely different. It feels like much more of a working relationship to the players. And we believe that's a good thing."
So baseball management and baseball labor had become, instead of enemies locked in a struggle to get an ever larger piece of the pie, now appear to be something much like partners, working together for the good of the game. This is only 180 degrees different than the past relationship.
The Commissioner frequently refers to the current time as "the golden era of baseball." At the very least, this is the era of labor peace in baseball. The outlines of the agreement do not suggest a victory for either "side" in the contract negotiations. Instead, the new agreement and the way in which it was achieved, suggest a victory for baseball in general.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.