MLB Labor Talks Proceed as Manfred and Clark Cross Paths at Series

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Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, cautioned Tuesday night there’s still time in the next five weeks for owners and the union to reach a deal on a new labor agreement before it expires.

The current five-year Basic Agreement ends on Dec. 1, and there’s some trepidation the owners will lock out the players if negotiations aren’t consummated by that date.

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The two sides have met in person three times in the last week and more face-to-face meetings are on the docket, Clark said.

Clark and commissioner Rob Manfred conducted impromptu media conferences on the field at Minute Maid Park, hours before the Atlanta Braves defeated the Houston Astros, 6-2, in Game 1 of the World Series.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is slated for Wednesday night in Houston before shifting to Atlanta’s Truist Park for Game 3 Friday night.

Clark said he’s well aware the clock is ticking, but, “I’m always a glass-half-full guy.”

“Dialogue is ongoing on a number of moving pieces,” he said. “Meeting in person has been a plus. We look forward to those kinds of opportunities to continue. Beyond that we’re looking to take advantage of as many days as the schedule permits over the next five weeks or so to continue that dialogue.”

Manfred stopped to greet Clark on the field as he spoke to the media. The two shook hands and chatted amicably before Manfred went toward the first base line and conducted his own scrum.

Manfred noted he’s also still optimistic a deal can get done by Dec. 1, despite conflicts over major economic issues. “The most important point is that I know our clubs are 100% committed to the idea they want an agreement by Dec. 1,” he said.

“Have you ever heard me say that I’m anything but optimistic about getting an agreement?” he asked. “I am a believer in the process. We’re meeting on a regular basis, and I’m hopeful we find a way to get an agreement by Dec. 1.”

It was the first time both leaders addressed these issues since meeting with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in an on-the-record session just prior to the All-Star Game in Denver on July 13.

The sides had decided to place a cone of silence over the negotiations and have declined to comment since then.

Even so, neither Manfred nor Clark spoke about any substantive issues, or even the progress of the talks.

“It’s hard to characterize progress,” Manfred said. “Progress is, you go in a room, you’re having conversations. People are continuing to talk. It doesn’t move in any measurable way that I’ve ever figured out, and I’ve done it a long time.”

Manfred, a labor lawyer by trade, was the lead negotiator for all collective bargaining with the MLBPA from 2002 until he became deputy commissioner under Bud Selig and ultimately replaced him in 2015. Deputy commissioner and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem is now negotiating for the owners.

Clark, the first former player to lead the union, is in his second round of negotiations since replacing the late Michael Weiner. Bruce Meyer, another longtime labor lawyer, is now the lead negotiator for the players.

One area Clark addressed as a major concern is the concept of “competitive integrity” and how the 30 teams might be incentivized to compete in the open market to sign the best players.

“The desire is to have any and all teams playing to win every game every night,” Clark said. “That’s the hope. We’ll highlight that. Everyone wins when we’re in a world where all 30 teams on any given night are doing the best they can to field the best team possible to win that night’s ballgame.”

There hasn’t been a work stoppage in baseball since 1994 when the players struck in August, leading to the cancellation of that postseason and a delay in the start of the 1995 season, when owners decided to use replacement players in an attempt to break the union.

There seems to be some animosity among the current players after last year the coronavirus pandemic caused Manfred to open the current Basic Agreement, and after tense negotiations, implemented a 60-game season.

The owners claim to have lost $3 billion in operating revenue, and the players lost 67% of their salaries.

This year, the owners wanted to delay and shorten the season until local health and safety protocols allowed them to play games at near to full capacity in the 30 ballparks, asking the players again to take a pay cut.

The players rejected that notion and demanded a 162-game season, which eventually took place.

Like 2020, the players wanted to utilize the designated hitter in the National League for health and safety reasons, and the owners wanted again to expand the playoffs. When the owners linked the two together, the players also rejected that proposal.

The union then filed a $500 million grievance against the owners because of the way MLB handled the 2020 season and the money the players lost.

All this is a backdrop to the current negotiations, which are spiraling toward the Dec. 1 deadline. What happens beyond that if there’s no deal is still to be determined.

“The expiration of the agreement is indeed midnight on Dec. 1,” Clark said. “I’m not looking or focusing on anything beyond that at this point.”