It's easy to forget, just one year later, how narrowly Major League Baseball avoided catastrophe. The league's lockout of the players was approaching its 100th day. The doomsday clock for missing regular-season games was ticking ever louder. Players were annoyed. Owners were cranky. Fans were demoralized. The sport was self-immolating.
On March 9, 2022, when commissioner Rob Manfred postponed a second week of regular-season games, panic set in across the sport. This was the moment they feared. They'd weathered proposals dismissed with eyerolls, the implementation of the game's first work stoppage in a quarter-century, a 43-day pause with zero substantive discussions, a weeklong bargaining session in Florida that ended with no deal, the cancellation of Opening Day -- posturing, preening, politicking, all the maneuvers to set up this moment: the point of no return.
Baseball wasn't just flirting with disaster. This was outright courtship. Conversations in recent weeks with more than two dozen people across the sport, from league and club officials to union and player leaders, illustrated how close baseball came to a labor fight that could have rivaled the 1994 player strike as the worst in the game's history.
"A lot closer than people may realize," one league official said.
"Too close," a player leader concurred.
One day after Manfred's announcement, over the objection of eight union executive board members who voted not to accept the league's final proposal, the rank-and-file overwhelmingly said yes to a deal and no to chaos, even though the parameters of the agreement did not overhaul baseball's core economics, a move many in the game -- players and owners both -- believe necessary. This was evolution, not revolution.
And this new deal has already had demonstrable effects on the forthcoming 2023 season. This offseason, teams guaranteed more money to free agents than ever before. The way front offices approach roster-building and fielding competitive squads has changed for the better. The most obvious shifts are taking shape on the field, where rules instituted in the collective bargaining agreement will single-handedly overhaul the game more than anything in generations.
Baseball finds itself at a seminal moment in its history -- specifically because of that deal made last March 10. It's not just a new season that starts March 30. It's a new game.