MLB lockout: why opening day is in jeopardy

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Good morning, this is Josh Rosenblat checking in from cold and snowy Chicago where DeMar DeRozan is the only thing warm.

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Is It Time to Panic About the MLB Lockout? I checked in at Matt Martell, SI’s MLB Editor, via Slack for an update on when we can expect baseball to return. What follows is an edited version of our direct messages.

Josh Rosenblat: Matt, welcome to SI:AM! One simple question to start with: when will Dan be able to watch his beloved Yankees crash out of the playoffs again?

Matt Martell: Josh! Glad to be here. I actually don’t think this question is as simple as it seems! Will Dan’s beloved Yankees make the playoffs this year? Will there be playoffs this year? How long before the Yankees make the playoffs again? How long before there are playoffs? What a time of uncertainty!

JR: Well… how about this? Why aren’t we a week away from Dan getting to see Yankees vs. Pirates Grapefruit League action?

MM: That’s a much more specific question, but the answer is still a bit complex. The surface answer is that MLB locked out players on Dec. 2 after the league’s most recent contract expired, and now, almost three months later, the two sides have not agreed on a new CBA.

The reasons they haven’t come to a new deal are more complicated.

JR: You’ve been following this news and have been anticipating a lockout for a while. What are the biggest issues keeping the league and players from making a deal?

MM: The biggest problems stem from the same core conflict: MLB’s revenue is at an all-time high, while average player salaries are actually falling. Players want their salaries to reflect game earnings. They feel that they are the ones fans are paying to see, whether on TV or in person, and therefore deserve to be fairly rewarded for their role in the game’s growth.

JR: OK, fair enough.

MM: So the way it works is that the players are trying to get their share of the pie while the owners are trying to keep their share. Players see six ways to change that.

  1. raising the minimum wage.
  2. Implementation of a bonus pool for the top performing players who are not yet eligible for arbitration.
  3. Creating a draft lottery.
  4. Declining revenue share between teams.
  5. Increase the proportion of eligible players with more than two years of service.
  6. Raising the tax threshold for the competitive balance.

Both sides have agreed on the basic concepts of the first three issues – raising minimum salaries, implementing the bonus pool and creating a draft lottery.

JR: Great! Halfway!

MM: But they remain separate in terms of the specifics of each. You can read about some of the specific financial differences here.

JR: What about revenue share and service?

MM: The owners consider the fourth and fifth editions non-starters. The union sees them as essential to increasing player pay and competitive integrity.

JR: So where does the competitive balance sheet tax come into play?

MM: The CBT is the most controversial of the group. It’s a luxury tax that penalizes teams if their paychecks exceed a certain amount set by the CBA. It was first implemented to curb excessive spending – think Dan’s Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s – with the idea that it would create more parity in the game between small and large teams. In practice, it works as an unofficial salary cap because club owners don’t want to pay the tax penalties. That would be fine to a degree, except that CBT hasn’t kept up with MLB’s earnings. Travis Sawchik from The score had a great piece explaining the relationship between CBT and MLB earnings.

Right now, they’re on the threshold of $31 million apart. The league wants to increase tax rates for teams that exceed the threshold; Players want to keep these rates the same.

JR: Roger. Thanks. The two sides have been talking a lot more this week than before, right? Why is this?

MM: That is correct. MLB set a deadline: In order to play a full 162-game season, the two teams would have to come to an agreement by the end of February. Opening Day is currently slated for March 31st to give players enough time to report to spring training camps, work with their teams, and play spring training games — and also give teams enough time to sign and close the remaining free agents make trades – before the season starts. Under the pressure of this deadline, both sides have met every day this week.

JR: Did talking make any progress?

MM: Incremental progress at best. A slight increase in minimum salaries, a slight decrease in the percentage of eligible players with more than two years of service, small movements in the bonus pool amount, but not nearly enough to indicate a deal is close. Perhaps the greatest advance that has come from these conversations is that they actually speak and continue to do so.

JR: I love it. A little bit of positivity. Obviously, these discussions can move quickly. What’s the best way to keep up with SI’s coverage?

MM: Yes, some self-promotion! Tom Verducci and Emma Baccellieri did an excellent job of providing updates and putting all developments in context. You can find her work at SI.com/MLB. And every Friday, I cover the lockout in our free baseball newsletter, the Five-Tool Newsletter. You should definitely sign up for this at SI.com/newsletters! The next one will come out sometime tonight after today’s round of negotiations.

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SIQ

The legendary first fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston took place on this day in 1964. (Check out yesterday’s newsletter for the awesome SI cover, which shows Ali in a bank vault before the fight.) Which now famous quote did Ali say first leading up to the fight?

You will find the answer in the Monday newsletter.

Yesterday’s SIQ: In 1932, Malcolm Campbell set a new world speed record with the car he named the Bluebird. How fast did he drive?

Reply: 253.97km/h. Campbell first set the land speed record in 1924 at 146.16 mph and surpassed the mark several times over the next decade. When he last set the record in 1935, he was going 301.129 mph, twice as fast as his first record run.

Campbell’s 1932 attempt was at Daytona Beach, but not on a racetrack — literally on the sand of the beach. Land speed record attempts at this time were usually made on beaches until the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah became the preferred location.

Campbell’s son Donald acquired his father’s need for speed and set a world speed record in 1964 at 403.1 miles per hour. Donald remains the only person to set new land and sea speed records in the same year. (Malcolm also simultaneously held the water and land records.) Donald was killed trying to set a water speed record in 1967.

From the Vault: February 25, 2019

Six cover

It’s hard to believe that this cover was only released three years ago. The Sixers’ starting group (Tobias Harris, JJ Redick, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons) was assembled in a snap, with Redick’s signing the previous offseason and Butler and Harris’ midseason acquisitions.

The goal: to build what is considered the best young duo in the league.

Three years later, Redick is retired, Butler was in the NBA Finals with the Heat, and Simmons joined the Nets. Harris and Embiid remain in Philly, but this Sixers group will likely go down in history as a flash in the pan.

Jeffery A. Salter, who photographed this cover, could sense that something was off with the team’s chemistry, he said in an interview for SI’s Full Frame newsletter series. (You can get Full Frame by signing up for a digital subscription.)

Embiid wasn’t actually in the original photo with the other four starters. He came later and was shot by himself. The images were later combined into one.

“I’m just beginning to think there may have been a mess in the dressing room,” Salter told Rohan Nadkarni. “I felt like there was something going on between him and the other players.”

View more archives and historical images from SI at vault.si.com.

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