CINCINNATI — Wednesday was supposed to be the day when Major League Baseball spring training began and those eternal words would have been uttered: "Pitchers and catchers report."
But thanks to a lockout that started on Dec. 2, 2021, that's not happening.
When the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired between baseball and the Major League Player's Union, the owners locked out the players, meaning they can't report for any team activities like off-season training. Talks have started, stopped and started again since December, with different proposals going back and forth, including some that would change the game in controversial ways.
One such example of negotiations that are underway is about the universal DH (designated hitter). Under a provision that seems certain to be in whatever the final bargaining agreement looks like, the National League would permanently adopt the designated hitter, which would end a tradition going back decades and fundamentally changes the strategy in the NL. The American League has had the designated hitter for decades.
The two sides are also fighting over what minimum pay should be for players when they first make it to the big leagues. The players want an increase to $775,000 for a 1st-year minimum salary, but the owners want to keep it $615,000, ESPN reports. The owners cite costs because of the pandemic for a smaller raise, but players argue that industry revenues have doubled since 2012 and the money to pay a higher minimum salary is there.
The most controversial proposal has come from the owners - they want to cut the number of minor league players for each team down to 120, which would cause the loss of 900 jobs across Minor League Baseball, according to ESPN. This is after baseball gutted the number of minor league teams two years ago.
Cutting minor league player jobs doesn't make much sense because they aren't that expensive. According to Hal McCoy, the Hall-of-Fame Cincinnati Reds beat writer, the minimum salary for a Triple-A player is $16,800 and the minimum for a player in Low-A is $9,600.
"It is some of (this) cheapskate silliness that is moving new contract negotiations at the pace of Sean Casey running to first base with the Great American Ball Park organ on his back," McCoy wrote on Tuesday.
So far this is the second-longest work stoppage in MLB history and could go longer. During the 1994 baseball strike, players took the brunt of grief from fans. Maybe owners think that will be the case this time since they've slow-played negotiations since the start. Owners waited 43 days into the current lockout before making their first core economics proposal.
Manfred said during his last press conference that players only needed a four-week spring training to get ready for the season. If there's no agreement by the end of February, then the start of the season at the end of March is in jeopardy.
The first spring training games are scheduled for Feb. 26, but that time frame is nearly impossible unless a deal is made immediately. COVID-19 intake testing alone would make that a hard date to keep.
Unless serious movement occurs on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the season will likely be delayed. At the pace negotiations are moving, this could look more like the pandemic-shortened season two years ago.
This could also spell yet another adjusted year for the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade here in Cincinnati. Three of the last four years, Cincinnatians haven't been able to enjoy a proper Opening Day parade due to weather and pandemic-related delays and cancellations.