Twins Games Canceled Amid MLB Labor Dispute

Twins Games Canceled Amid MLB Labor Dispute

Gwen Reoch, Associate Sports Editor

Minnesota Twins fans with tickets in April should start making new plans. For the first time since 1994, a work stoppage has resulted in the cancellation of Major League Baseball (MLB) games. The league’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, announced in a press conference on Tuesday, March 1 that the first week of games, spanning from March 31 to April 6, would not be played or rescheduled and left the possibility of more cancellations open. On March 9, with still no agreement in place, the cancellations were extended to the first four series of the season.

The four teams the Twins were scheduled to play were the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Guardians on the road and the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers at home. The first game of the season, as it stands, would now be away at the Boston Red Sox on April 15 and the Twins’ home opener would be on April 22. The league-wide Opening Day would take place on April 14, but these plans are still subject to change without an agreement soon. 

On Dec. 2, the team owners implemented a lockout of all Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) members, which acts as the union for the players. At the end of the 2021 season, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the two sides expired, and negotiations to renew were not successful. The CBA is the agreement on the rules of the league, such as minimum salary, field rules and season length. Every five seasons, it must be renegotiated, but for 2022 the two sides could not come to a consensus.

Under the lockout, all baseball activities are halted. Players cannot train in team facilities, communicate with staff or appear in league media. Spring Training, the warm-up phase of the offseason in March, has not started and likely won’t until the lockout ends. Players are not paid and are locked out of their jobs.

This is one of the most visible labor disputes in modern American history. As the world fights for better working conditions and fairer pay in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the efforts of baseball players can provide hope and inspiration. Despite athletes being perceived as well-paid, this is still the common tale of exploited laborers vs billionaire owners, and the workers are fighting hard to earn their fair share of profits.

This work stoppage was not a surprise in any way — in fact, it’s been years in the making. The last few times the CBA had expired, there was no trouble making a new one, because the MLBPA allowed themselves to be ripped off. Economic rules, league structure and more had all shifted in favor of the owners, whose goals are to spend as little money as possible. This may have continued, but the COVID-19 pandemic opened eyes in sports, especially baseball, to just how much the team owners exploit player labor. The fight for fair compensation during the shortened 2020 season was a precursor for a bigger fight this year.

Although there are many moving pieces to the negotiating, there are four main areas of disagreement that dominate the conversation. Most importantly is the Competitive Balance Threshold, which sets penalties, such as taxes or losing draft picks, for team salaries exceeding certain limits (e.g. $210 million in 2021). The MLB doesn’t have a salary cap, a maximum spending limit for teams, like all other major sports do. The players are arguing that the CBT essentially sets one, as many teams use it as their spending limit, and therefore the union wants it to be raised. Owners wanted it to stay the same, or even be lower, and most of the disagreement in the negotiations have been working through the roughly $50 million difference in their starting points.

Another point of contention is the minimum salary, which was $570,500 in 2021. That may seem like a lot at first glance, but to reach that salary, players must go through usually five or more years of minor league pay, which comes out to below legal minimum wage. If a player makes it to the major leagues, which only about 10% of all draftees do, teams can keep players at that salary level for up to six years (assuming they stay employed that long), and over half of MLB’s labor force is in this category. With no college degree and supporting a meager salary for that long, making that minimum MLB salary for one or two years usually isn’t much to write home about. For reference on how little players are paid, the Minnesota Twins made an estimated $297 million in revenue, but paid the workers less than half of that. The union and owners are currently expected to agree to a $700,000 base minimum that will increase over the next five years, a clear win for the laborers with an almost 25% increase.

The third sticking point follows the same theme — the creation of a pool of bonus money for those making the minimum, based on performance. The two sides started very far from each other, the owners and union asking for $0 and $100 million respectively, but it seems that the discussions have settled around the $40 million mark (still only about $1,330,000 per team). Given that this has never existed before, any pool amount is a win for the union, but they’d like to get it as high as possible.

Lastly, the two sides have been negotiating the amount of teams that will make the playoffs each year. For the owners, more teams means more television rights revenue. They have been insistent on 14 teams, a big increase from the current 10 out of 30 total. The players have two objections — first, that less of an incentive to finish higher in the standings would result in less of an incentive for owners to spend more. Second, that they aren’t paid for playoff games. This isn’t a top priority for the union though, so it is likely that the deal will include either 12 or 14 teams.

A deal was almost reached in February, or so it seemed. With an MLB-imposed deadline of 5:00 p.m. on March 1 for whether or not the season would start on time, representatives for the owners and players met for more than 12 hours on Feb. 28 to save Opening Day. Reports were flying around all night of progress being made and a deal being close, getting the baseball world optimistic of positive news the next day. However, on the morning of the deadline, an MLB representative announced that the MLBPA’s tone had changed and a deal was no longer close to complete. At 5:00 p.m., that proved to be true.

However, the players took to Twitter the next day to challenge the MLB’s claims. An agreement was never close, they said, but the owners had fueled that narrative to be able to paint the players as the public enemy. 

Alex Wood, a vocal leader of the MLBPA throughout the lockout, posted on Twitter, “FWIW MLB has pumped to the media last night & today that there’s momentum toward a deal. Now saying the players tone has changed. So if a deal isn’t done today it’s our fault. This isn’t a coincidence. We’ve had the same tone all along. We just want a fair deal/to play ball.”

The resolve of the players will not fade easily. Over $20 million in salary is lost across the league for every game canceled, but players know that the owners pockets are hurting too. 

“A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said. “But [we] won’t be intimidated.”

As much as this battle is taking place behind closed doors, it is also taking place online. Both players and MLB executives have been frequently vocal in both their aims and their condemnation of the other side’s respective attitude. Fan opinions have been used as leverage throughout the negotiations, adding pressure to come to a hasty agreement. Baseball is a sport desperate to increase its viewership and fan engagement, and negative sentiments towards the state of the sport will discourage that growth, especially with missed games. 

The importance of this labor dispute can not be overstated. For sports fans, the demise of America’s Pastime is happening right in front of their eyes. Opening Day, a tradition dating back over a century, is in peril. For the youth audience, already on the decline in baseball, the social media presence of the game’s stars has been missed throughout the lockout. Baseball is currently falling in a downward spiral. 

Now, on day 100 of the lockout (at the time of print), another MLB-imposed deadline has passed, this time for a full 162 game schedule to be played. The representatives of both sides are meeting daily in New York, inching ever closer to a full agreement. Without serious movement soon, as more obstacles appear everyday, it may be a while before we can welcome the Twins home to Minnesota.

[email protected]


This article went to print on March 9 and the ongoing MLB Lockout is a fluid situation, subject to change.