Soon after the Astros or Braves are crowned World Series belt and title-holders for 2021, the focus of the baseball collective will shift to the labor negotiations that will be the catalyst for everything else that happens this coming offseason.
Said negotiations are predictably rife with minutiae and tedium, but they're an essential part of Major League Baseball. If you care about baseball at the highest level, then you should probably develop a working familiarity with the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between players and owners. As always, we're here for those with nowhere left to turn.
What follows is a walking tour of the CBA and the fraught undertaking that will eventually lead to a new one. That new CBA will allow the game on the field to shift back into focus, but it could be a long and ugly time getting there.
Now let us gird ourselves with the necessary knowledge. We shall do so via the time-honored format of the FAQ, which has been reliable praxis since the era of the monastic scriptorium. Let us proceed with seven frequently asked questions, like it or not.
1. So what's the CBA, exactly?
The CBA is the negotiated agreement between players and clubs (i.e., the team owners) that governs the working relationship between the two parties. It covers things as mundane as players' meal allowances and travel protocols and as vital as minimum salaries, the structure of free agency, revenue-sharing specifics, and roster sizes.
In recent times, each CBA has covered a period of five years. The current one, for instance, was ratified in December of 2016 and governed the 2017-21 seasons. It expires at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 of this year.
The first CBA covered the 1968 and 1969 seasons, and it was the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports history. That was the handiwork of Marvin Miller, the pioneering head of the Players Association (i.e., the players union) and woefully belated Hall of Famer. It was Miller's organizing skills, foresight, and training as a union economist that allowed him to make the Players Association a viable and effective union, and he did so in defiance of the odds and history.
During Miller's time and beyond, each CBA negotiation has been a pitched battle between two powerful entities. While that power shifts by degrees between players and owners, it's no longer a case of owners ruling by fiat, which is largely how things were in the pre-Miller days. As such, the skirmishes over the CBA often result in labor stoppage, in the form of either owner lockout or players' strike.
Here's a brief history of those labor stoppages: