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Labor Strikes Out in Lockout: A Look at the Second Longest Work Stoppage in Baseball History

Empty Safeco Field baseball stadium

Photo Source: HyunJae Park, Safeco Field, Flickr (Dec. 15, 2015) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By: Joe Brucker*                                                               Posted: 04/22/2022

Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players’ Association finally reached a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement ninety-nine days into the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history.[1] MLB had previously requested the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to aid in negations with the MLB Players Association, hoping to end a lockout that stretched on for over three months.[2] MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that the lockout was necessary to “accelerat[e] the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season.”[3] With the lockout finally over, the spring training schedule will be reduced from six weeks to three running between March 17 and April 5.[4]

What is a Lockout?

Historically, management has used MLB offseason lockouts as a tool to preempt player strikes and reduce the likelihood of regular season delays or cancellations.[5] A lockout is a form of labor stoppage wherein management refuses to allow players to use team facilities and freezes the free agency process by placing all trades on hold.[6] Typically, MLB chooses to initiate a lockout rather than continue under the terms of an old Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) to prevent players from striking during the regular season, similar to what happened during the last players’ strike in August 1994.[7]

Since 1972, player strikes have resulted in the loss of 1,720 regular-season games, including 921 in 1994-1995 alone, a season in which the World Series was ultimately canceled.[8] In 1994-95, the season did not resume until future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction compelling MLB to reinstate an expired CBA while negotiations between management and the players union continued.[9] By contrast, the last three lockouts prevented the loss of a single regular season game.[10] While the length of the regular season will not be impacted by this latest lockout, there are some who speculate that fans may react negatively to the lockout dispute by spending less on their favorite teams throughout the year.[11]

What the Players and Owners Wanted

Players took issue with the so-called competitive balance tax (“CBT”), which disincentivized teams with higher revenue from spending above certain payroll limits.[12] Players have also attacked prior CBA revenue-sharing schemes as penalizing players and making it harder for small-market teams to compete.[13] Team owners in the negotiations advocated for maintaining the status quo and refused to offer counter-proposals until the union dropped key demands including reducing the revenue-sharing system, weakening the competitive balance tax, and shortening the period of time players play.[14] This new agreement, reached on March 10, 2022, has several notable provisions including a CBT threshold of $230 million starting in 2023, a CBT penalty scheme starting at $60 million over this threshold, minimum salaries, and adjustments to the postseason format including adding two playoff teams.[15] The modest adjustments made in the new CBA are seen by some as a win for management, who were largely able to maintain the status quo.[16]

MLB Anti-Trust Exemption

Labor negotiations such as these are usually governed by Section One of the Sherman Act, which provides that “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.”[17] However, the Supreme Court created an anti-trust exemption for the MLB in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs.[18] The Clinton Administration later narrowed the antitrust exemption through the Curt Flood Act.[19] This exemption does not allow teams and MLB to collude in ways that restrain how they compete such as suppressing players’ wages, but they may still conspire on pacts concerning minor league baseball, the amateur draft, franchise relocation, ownership sales, umpire-league matters and licensing of intellectual property.[20]


Future of MLB Labor Negotiations

Part of the recently proposed Build Back Better Act[21] seeks to make it more difficult to replace strikers or to use lockouts in labor disputes.[22] Additionally, last year, Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC) introduced a bill that would eliminate professional baseball’s antitrust exemption.[23] Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also proposed legislation aimed at removing MLB’s Antitrust Law Exemption.[24] Despite seemingly bipartisan legislative efforts in support of the players union generally, it seems the two sides will reach an agreement in time to avoid delays to the regular season at the expense of certain MLBPA demands.[25]

*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2023, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


[1]  See Mike Axisa, MLB Lockout Ends: What’s Next for Baseball as MLBPA, Owners Reach Agreement and get Ready for 2022 Opening Day, CBS Sports (Mar. 13, 2022, 11:35 AM) (stating 1994-1995 player’s strike was longer at 232 days).

[2] See Matt Snyder & R.J. Anderson, MLBPA Declines MLB’s Request for Help from Federal Mediators in Lockout Negotiations, CBS Sports (Feb. 4, 2022, 3:35 PM), (stating MLBPA has declined option of third-party mediator).

[3] See Matt Breen, MLB, Owners Lock Out Players for First Work Stoppage in 26 Years, Phila. Inquirer (Dec. 1, 2021), (explaining MLB’s reasoning for initiating lockout).

[4] See James Wagner, Play Ball! Lockout Ends as M.L.B. and Union Strike a Deal, N.Y. Times (Mar. 10, 2022), (discussing abbreviate spring schedule); MLB 2022: Here’s All You Need to Know About Spring Training, Opening Day, NBCSports (Mar. 11, 2022), (providing dates of spring training schedule).

[5] See Gregg Clifton & Bernard Dennis, Major League Baseball Owners Use “Only Tool Available” To Lockout Players, JDSupra (Dec. 3, 2021), (comparing lockouts and strikes and effectiveness of various negotiation strategies in past years).

[6] See Dan Perry, MLB Lockout: Everything to Know about Baseball’s First Work Stoppage Since 1994-95, CBS Sports (Dec. 12, 2021, 8:30 PM), (providing history of previous work stoppages in MLB).

[7] See Nick Piecoro, How Will MLB’s Lockout Impact Spring Training in Arizona? All Questions Answered, AZCentral (Feb. 11, 2022, 5:05PM), (explaining reasoning for management’s decision to initiate lockout).

[8] See Perry, supra note 6 (providing background on strikes and lockouts throughout MLB history).

[9] See Scott Allen, Sonia Sotomayor May Not Have ‘Saved Baseball’ in 1995, But She Set It on a Path to Labor Peace, Wash. Post (Dec. 2, 2021, 9:40 AM), (explaining Sonia Sotomayor’s role in last MLB labor dispute).

[10] See id. (explaining lockouts tend to result in fewer cancelled season games but may negatively impact fans and public opinion of league).

[11] See Jon Hoefling, Will the MLB Lockout Affect Fans’ Spending Habits?, Dead Spin (Mar. 24, 2022, 5:37 PM), (providing survey data projecting drop in revenue for 2022 season).

[12] See Hannah Keyser, A Fight over This Issue Looms Large as MLB Lockout Threatens Spring Training, Yahoo Sports (Feb. 1, 2022), (explaining how competitive balance tax functions as “soft cap”).

[13] See Perry, supra note 6 (explaining issues MLBPA had with previous CBAs).

[14] See Anthony Witrado, What Do Owners Want from the MLB Lockout? Basically, for Nothing to Change, Forbes (Dec. 9, 2021), (explaining motivations of MLB owners in negotiations).

[15] See R. J. Anderson, MLB Lockout Ends as MLBPA, Owners Reach CBA Agreement; Five Takwaways with Baseball Set to Return, CBSSports (Mar. 12, 2022, 11:49 AM), (explaining provisions of new CBA).

[16] See MLB, MLBPA Reach Labor Agreement: Everything You Need to Know as Lockout Ends, ESPN (Mar. 10, 2022), (providing experts’ views on CBA).

[17] 15 U.S.C.S. §§ 1 et seq. (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 117-80); see also Jonathan Gordon, Baseball’s Anti-Trust Exemption: Is It Time for a Change? LawInSport (Oct. 2, 2014), (explaining Sherman Act and how it relates to salary negotiations in MLB).

[18] See Fed. Baseball Club of Balt., Inc. v. Nat’l League of Prof’l Baseball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200, 207 (1922); see also J.J. Cooper, Supreme Court Calls Out Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption in NCAA Ruling, Baseball America (Jun. 21, 2021), (explaining origin of antitrust exemption for MLB).

[19] See Curt Flood Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. § 26b (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 117-80) (explaining limitations on MLB’s antitrust exemption).

[20] See Michael McCann, GOP’s Antitrust Exemption Bill May Disrupt MLB Labor Talks, Sportico (Apr. 14, 2021, 5:08 PM), (explaining wage fixing is part of exemption but market allocation and restraining economic activity are without judicial scrutiny).

[21] Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376, 117th Cong. (2021) (setting forth detailed appropriations for variety of different pressing matters).

[22] See Clifton & Dennis, supra note 5 (explaining Biden administration efforts to strengthen labor’s negotiating powers).

[23] See Competition in Professional Baseball Act, H.R. 2511, 117th Cong. (2021) (seeking to remove antitrust exemption from professional baseball teams, to repeal Curt Flood Act); see also Competition in Professional Baseball Act, S. 1111, 117th Cong. (2021) (introducing Duncan’s companion bill in Senate); McCann, supra note 20 (explaining efforts by congressional Republican to alter MLB antitrust exemption).

[24] See S. 3833, 117th Cong. (2022), (showing Senator Sanders as sponsor).

[25] See Tom Verducci, Spring Training Is Unlikely to Begin on Time, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 1, 2022), (explaining spring training is unlikely to start on Feb. 16, 2021 due to lockout).