Voices from past echo as MLB lockout takes hold

By Ted Keith

Last week the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA expired and the owners instituted a lockout, ending the longest run of labor peace in major professional sports in North America at 26 years.


The most recent work stoppage in MLB, of course, was the devastating strike of 1994-95. While the owners’ plans for a salary cap were dashed, it came at a high cost: the World Series was canceled and the sport’s popularity took a major hit. The seven shutdowns that preceded it are often forgotten, but each played a part in the acrimonious buildup to 1994. In fact, some words from those showdowns sound awfully familiar as this year’s battle — to be waged on familiar ground like free agency and competitive balance — takes shape:


Stoppage: Strike

Length: 13 days

Primary dispute: Pension funds

Result: The owners added $500,000 to the fund and salary arbitration was introduced. The season started two weeks late.

Games Missed: 86

“Everybody recognizes that nobody won.” —M. Donald Grant, New York Mets chairman of the board

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Stoppage: Lockout

Length: 17 days

Primary dispute: Salary arbitration

Result: The sides agreed to a three-year CBA that included a neutral arbitrator picking one of the proposals at issue rather than splitting the difference.

Games Missed: 0

“Last year no one had trouble saying the word strike. This year everyone is having trouble saying lockout.” —Marvin Miller, MLBPA chief


Stoppage: Lockout

Length: 17 days

Primary dispute: Free agency

Result: A federal judge upheld a ruling by arbitrator Peter Seitz that declared pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith free agents, and a new CBA paved the way for full free agency after that season.

Games Missed: 0

“He can work in a car wash.” —Ray Kroc, Padres owner, after Messersmith turned down San Diego’s contract offer to join the Atlanta Braves instead


Stoppage: Strike

Length: 8 days

Primary dispute: Owners’ demands for free-agent compensation

Result: The players agreed to return to start the season but set a strike date of May 23. Just before it was to begin, they reached agreement on a four-year CBA with owners that avoided a strike but delayed a resolution on the primary matter to 1981.

Games Missed: 0

“We wanted to show that we were capable of sticking together.” —Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees outfielder


Stoppage: Strike

Length: 50 days

Primary dispute: Free agency compensation

Result: A system was put in place allowing teams that lose a free agent designated Type A to select a replacement professional player and get a draft pick. The regular season was split in half and an extra round of playoffs was added for that year alone. Players lost an estimated $28 million, while owners suffered a reported net loss of $72 million.

Games Missed: 712

“I very seriously doubt that the owners will try to challenge the players again.”—Doug DeCinces, Baltimore Orioles infielder


Stoppage: Strike

Length: 2 days

Primary dispute: Salary arbitration

Result: The owners dropped their proposal to limit gains made in salary arbitration to 100%, while the players raised the eligibility requirement to three years.

Games Missed: 25; 23 are made up

Owners have to “stop asking players to solve their financial problems.” —Peter Ueberroth, MLB commissioner


Stoppage: Lockout

Length: 32 days

Primary dispute: Free agency

Result: The minimum salary rose to $100,000 for the first time, while owners’ hopes for a revenue sharing plan and a salary cap went nowhere.

Games Missed: 0

“It was designed to prevent the interruption of the season, all the sadness of 1981, the heartache that we went through.” —Bud Selig, Milwaukee Brewers owner

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