Will 2011 see labor peace in MLB?

Will 2011 see labor peace in MLB?
Mark this date on your calendar: December 11, 2011. A little less than eleven months from now the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) will expire. In past years, this has been a source of anxiety for fans (and those who make their livelihood from the game such as concession and ballpark workers, etc.) but the tenor for this year’s negotiations was succinctly stated by Commissioner Bud Selig when he said, “We’re on a constructive path.”

Certainly, the recently-concluded owners’ meeting at Paradise Valley, AZ had an air of calm and expectation-of-continued profitability that pushed the soon-to-expire CBA behind talk of expanding instant replay and possibly expanding the post-season playoff structure. It may not be as relaxed it was in 2006, when the current CBA was announced before Game 3 of the World Series, but it probably won’t be as tense as it was in 2002, when talks went down to the wire. In any event, we are now far removed from the rancor and disruptions of the 80’s and 90’s.

Compare and contrast this with the expiring labor agreements in two other major sports, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. Honestly speaking, the NFL Players’ Association has been a broken organization since the lockout of 1987 when the owners fielded “replacement” teams (in the San Francisco Bay Area of the time, we called them the “Phony-Niners”) and foisted Brand-X football off on the ticket buyers; that’s not likely to change this season and we should expect the owners to wring substantial concessions from the NFLPA.

In the NBA, though, all bets are off and the willingness of the owners to shut down the 2011-12 season should not be underestimated; after all, the NHL succeeded in doing that without self-destructing in 2005, and the NBA Players’ Association under Billy Hunter may go so far as to decertify itself as a union so individual players could sue the league for antitrust violations. Now we’re talking real outside-the-lines action!

Let me say that finding a bunch of palookas that can put on helmets and shoulder pads and give a demonstration of smash-mouth football is a lot easier than finding players with the skill sets to perform on the diamond or the hardwood. Sorry football fans, but you know that’s true.

In the meantime, we can count the days until pitchers and catchers report and keep track of the dwindling number of free agents and the increasing trade rumors, for example, will the Yankees’ signing of reliever Rafael Soriano to be the set-up man for Mariano Rivera mean the end of once-untouchable Joba Chamberlain’s career in pinstripes? It’s an intriguing question and one that will no doubt generate plenty of warmth on the Hot Stove.

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