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Baseball's peaceable kingdom

As the NFL and NBA brace for labor war, baseball owners and players expect to sign a new deal that could extend the era of accord through 20 years.

January 01, 2011|By Bill Shaikin

Derek Jeter made his major league debut on May 29, 1995. Never has a labor squabble cost him a game.

Eight paragraphs were inadvertently dropped from the end of this article during the editing process. This updated online version presents the article in its entirety.
Dave Winfield made his debut on June 19, 1973, one year after a player strike and four months after an owners' lockout. In a Hall of Fame career that ended in 1995, Winfield endured four strikes and two lockouts that wiped a total of 1,650 games from the major league schedule.

"If I'd have gotten those extra games, I might have had 500 home runs," said Winfield, whose career included 465 home runs.

As the NFL and NBA brace for labor war, the sport that used to be the paragon of dysfunction now has an enviable record of labor peace. The current collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 11, but owners and players expect to sign a new deal that could extend the era of labor peace through 20 years.

"The public certainly got tired of listening to millionaires and billionaires fighting over money," Winfield said.

During Winfield's career, never could baseball complete more than four consecutive seasons without a strike or lockout. Jeter's career has spanned 15 full seasons without labor interruption.

Baseball's revenue has soared over that period, from $2 billion in 1993 — the last full season before the last strike — to $7 billion this year.

"The most explosive period of growth in this industry has corresponded with the extended period of good labor relations," said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations and chief negotiator for Commissioner Bud Selig.

"In some industries, you can take labor peace for granted. That certainly has not been the case, historically, in baseball. I view the period of labor stability as one of the great accomplishments of the commissioner's tenure."

Neither Manfred nor Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players' union, is willing to go so far as to guarantee an agreement will be reached amicably, not with bargaining yet to begin in earnest.

However, none of the saber-rattling that dominated the baseball landscape before the 1994-95 strike — and that now dominates the NFL and NBA landscapes — can be heard around the major leagues today.

Selig backed down from mandatory drug testing and meaningful penalties in order to secure a 2002 agreement without risking a strike. The players have yielded since then, under prodding from Congress, to the point where Selig proclaims baseball has the toughest testing program among the major North American team sports.

The owners have yielded on a salary cap, thus avoiding the bitter battles in the NFL and NBA about what percentage of revenue should be allotted to player salaries.

To Weiner, though, the most important player victory in the 1994-95 strike was not the one over the salary cap. It was the victory over owners determined to field teams without union players.

"The union is here to stay," Weiner said, "and the union can make positive contributions to the game."

As outlined under the collective bargaining agreement, the union and owners have jointly funded efforts to increase baseball's popularity and reach across the country and around the world, most notably with the launch of the World Baseball Classic.

That is good news to Winfield, now an executive vice president and senior adviser with the San Diego Padres.

"Major league baseball is a growing industry," he said, "and labor peace can only help with that."

Winfield lost chunks of three seasons, including his last two, to work stoppages that might have cost him that chance at 500 home runs. He does not look back with remorse, not when the result of all that discord ensured that each player could shop his services to every team at some point in his career.

"I felt like I was a part of one of the most important movements in professional sports, or in business," Winfield said. "It's one of the most important things I accomplished in my life. I don't regret any of it."

What baseball owners and players want

What the league wants: Predetermined signing bonuses for draft picks; worldwide draft; two more wild-card teams in playoffs.

What players want: Assurances that revenue-sharing recipients spend that money on players; best-of-seven division series rather than best-of-five.

CBA expires: Dec. 11, 2011.

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