Major League Baseball owners locked out players at midnight Wednesday for the first work stoppage in the sport since 1995 as the collective bargaining agreement with the players union expired.
The lockout ended the sport’s labor peace after 9,740 days over 26 and a half years. Players and owners had reached collective bargaining agreements four straight times without a stoppage, but a clash had been on the drawing board for about two years.
"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. "We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players' association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive."
The two sides were far apart on key economic issues, and management negotiators left the union’s hotel nine hours before the deal lapsed. MLB’s 30 controlling owners then held a brief digital meeting to reaffirm their lockout decision.
"This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players’ resolve to reach a fair contract," MLBPA chief Tony Clark said in a statement. "We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership."
The start of the lockout meant clubs freezing signings of free agent players, the cancelation of the league’s annual winter meetings and players being prohibited from team workout facilities and weight rooms with the possibility of ticket sales being put on ice until an agreement is reached.
The MLBPA sought change following anger over a declining average salary and middle-class players forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy and veterans jettisoned in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among rebuilding clubs.
"As players we see major problems with it," New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said of the 2016 deal. "First and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that, and adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring out the competition."
A source familiar with management’s negotiations told FOX Business owners put "realistic wins" on the table for the players, including a minimum salary increase from $570,500 and a spending floor of $100 million in salaries for teams. The source noted that baseball is the only sport with $300 million in guaranteed contracts without a salary cap, max deals, rights of first refusal or franchise tags.
"We offered to establish a minimum payroll for all clubs to meet for the first time in baseball history; to allow the majority of players to reach free agency earlier through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of service time manipulation; and to increase compensation for all young players," Manfred added in his letter. "When negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to create some by offering to accept the universal designated hitter, to create a new draft system using a lottery similar to other leagues."
There are 11 weeks until pitchers and catchers are supposed to report for spring training with Opening Day set for March 31.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.