DETROIT – No one was saying anything. The Major League Baseball Players Association did not pillory the baseball owners in slick press conferences, and the owners did not call the union a cabal steered by greed, and, wouldn't you know it, a labor deal emerged anyway.
Peace actually seemed the objective in baseball's latest labor negotiation, which tentatively has resulted in a collective bargaining agreement that is expected to become official in St. Louis, where commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Donald Fehr will shake hands and boast of their sport's success.
Good for them. They deserve it. Along with chief negotiator Rob Manfred, Selig and the owners recognized that baseball is in a period of unprecedented wealth that any labor discord, let alone a work stoppage, could damage permanently. Fehr and Co. realized that a pitcher like Jeff Suppan might get four years at $40 million on the open market this offseason, and numbers like that talk.
While the sides did not add any major points to the new contract, they didn't spend 18 months on nothing. The revenue-sharing and luxury-tax systems will look different, funneling more money toward the lower-revenue teams, and despite a report to the contrary, compensatory draft choices will not be eliminated – just tweaked, according to a source close to the negotiations.
For two groups whose stubbornness has led to eight work stoppages – one (in 1985) lasting two days, another (between 1994 and '95) wiping out 938 games and the World Series – they reached middle ground before the current CBA expires Dec. 19 because of rationality, a characteristic sorely lacking in previous negotiations.
"Both sides know there's no point to drag it out," said Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson, their assistant player representative to the union. "There's no point to even put in the mind of the fans that it's a money issue. As soon as you lock it up, it's a baseball issue, and the fans can come back and look forward to watching baseball."
Fans are watching baseball, at least in person, in record numbers, as Selig happily points out like a politician with a talking point. He probably will ignore the expected dismal television ratings for the World Series because baseball just minted a fat new television contract, making those numbers of little short-term consequence.
In fact, the TV contract, along with revenue from MLB.com and dozens of other new streams created under Selig, has pushed baseball's revenue to more than $5 billion this season, about 50 percent more than at the last labor negotiation.
Money, in this instance, bought silence. And money, too, is what brought the parties together in the first place, what smoothed years of dissension. Baseball stood to lose everything – its credibility and its overflowing coffers – during the steroid scandal. Even after the 2002 negotiations, which resulted in an 11th-hour deal, the union and owners weren't exactly friendly. With both sides being dragged before and embarrassed by Congress over the performance-enhancing drug issue, they needed to work together.
The current steroid agreement, which the source said was not amended but will be folded into the CBA, is the toughest in American professional sports. While that's like being the most hardcore band at Lilith Fair – who really believes, as testing claims, that no major-league player did steroids this season? – it's progress, because from here on finding the newest drugs and ways to test them is up to scientists, not MLB.
"Whatever it takes to get it done," said St. Louis player rep Braden Looper, speaking in broad terms, "is what's best for the game."
If both sides take that mentality, the game can only improve. Selig's baby was the World Baseball Classic, and even with its flaws, the union agreed to it. All of the great games in March validated the idea, one that should improve as baseball fine-tunes when it takes place and which players play.
Stories had circulated for a few days that an agreement was near, and when word of its imminence flashed on the television, Granderson got only a peek. He wondered, "What agreement?" When he found out, he didn't necessarily celebrate.
Even if he did grow up during the last strike in '95, Granderson knows this is a different time, one where labor peace is expected and not a luxury. And if there's anything to brag about, that's it.
- Bud Selig