M.L.B. and Its Union Seek Common Ground as World Series Starts
HOUSTON — With the clocking ticking on the expiration of the labor agreement between Major League Baseball’s club owners and players, the leaders of both groups reiterated on Tuesday their desires to avoid a work stoppage.
“I’m 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,” M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred said as he stood on the field before Game 1 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park.
Tony Clark, the executive director of the M.L.B. Players Association, said the sides have had both formal and informal bargaining sessions since the All-Star Game in July, with more expected leading up to the collective bargaining agreement’s expiration at midnight on Dec. 1.
“To the extent that there is a desire to find common ground, we still have that desire,” Clark said. “To the extent that there is a number of issues that we have worked through and some we’re going to continue to work through, we will.”
He added later, “I’m always a glass half full guy.”
Baseball has not had a work stoppage since the strike that canceled the 1994 World Series and bled into the next season. There has been labor peace since, with Manfred and Clark playing roles in that. But the animosity and mistrust between owners and players have ratcheted up over the years. And in negotiating the resumption of the 2020 season suspended by the coronavirus pandemic, the sides bickered for months and issued sharp statements.
This year has been different, as both groups vowed to learn from the lessons of last summer, and have largely negotiated out of the public’s eye Among the many concerns on both sides, the union wants to force more teams to be competitive, which means more spending on talent, while owners want to expand the playoffs, which makes them more lucrative.
“It’s hard to characterize progress,” Manfred said. “Progress is you go in the 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. The most important point is I know our clubs are 100 percent committed to the idea that they want an agreement by Dec. 1.”
If no agreement is reached, M.L.B. could enact a lockout to freeze transactions. Spring training is to begin in February, with the 2022 regular season scheduled to start on March 31.
In his other comments with reporters on Tuesday, Manfred defended the Atlanta team, whose nickname and tomahawk chop, a chant and motion used by fans during games, have been called offensive by some Native Americans. Although the team has phased out a few aspects related to the chop — it stopped distributing red foam tomahawks in 2019 after St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, criticized the chant — the tradition continues at the team’s Truist Park.
“It’s important to understand that we have 30 markets around the country,” Manfred said. “They’re not all the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community. The Native American community in that region is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that’s kind of the end of the story. In that market, taking into account the Native American community, it works.”
The team has said it has no plans to change its name. Asked if there was more pressure to change after Cleveland switched its nickname to the Guardians because the team’s owner said the original name was no longer acceptable, Manfred again said that every M.L.B. community was different.
“We don’t market our game on a nationwide basis,” he said. “Ours is an everyday game. You’ve got to sell tickets every single day to the fans in that market. And there are all sorts of differences among the clubs, among the regions, as to how the game is marketed.”
Given how some people feel about the chop, Clark said he welcomed further discussion about its use.
“My experience with any issue that is a social issue or an issue that deals or incites the kind of commentary that you’ve seen in Atlanta is worthy of some dialogue,” he said. “I know that there are certain things that, as a Black man, resonate with me, and we’ll assume that there are instances that resonate with others as well.”
Earlier in the year, Manfred angered the Atlanta team and a fair number of its fans when he decided to move the All-Star Game from Truist Park to Denver because of a Georgia law that restricted voting access in the state. While M.L.B. chooses which team hosts the All-Star Game, the World Series hosts are solely determined by performance on the field.
On Tuesday, Manfred said that the league tries to stay apolitical and that this year it made a rare exception, noting that its fans have diverse points of view and “we’d like to keep the focus on the field.”