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The owners are at fault for the lockout even though the lockout hurts their teams

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The lockout was not necessary

Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman watches from the owner’s box during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium on September 01, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman watches from the owner’s box during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium on September 01, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Major League Baseball is in a lockout. This is common knowledge. Pretty much everyone who follows baseball knows that this means teams can’t sign free agents or make trades with other teams, and to be fair that is the biggest visible consequence of the lockout. Unfortunately, the lockout is more than that.

Of less common knowledge is that the league is not required to be in a lockout without a Collective Bargaining Agreement—more commonly referred to as a CBA—in place. The players had nothing to do with the lockout, because the owners implemented it unanimously. In an alternate universe, probably one where the Royals never did away with their all-powder blue road uniforms, the league and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association—more commonly referred to as the MLBPA—would continue negotiating even as the offseason chugged along more or less like normal.

This may not seem like a big deal that there is a lockout. It is. See, a lockout doesn’t just mean that the league can’t sign or trade players; rather, it is much simpler than that, and it’s in the name itself: lockout. When the owners decided to implement the lockout, they decided to literally bar the union from entering the premises of their workplace, and it’s a tactic not limited to sports unions.

You can probably see where this is a problem. Though players continue to paid—they’re not on strike here, so the employer still has to pay the bills or run afoul of, you know, labor law—there are other rather large consequences. The big one is that, as of a month ago, injured players lost all access to team doctors, medical advice, and fitness and recovery resources at the snap of some billionaires’ fingers.

This does not seem very smart on the surface. Teams spend millions of dollars a year on the best personnel in the business and state-of-the-art technology to keep their players healthy. To willingly force your entire 40-man roster to figure their fitness out on their own, whether injured or healthy, seems like an unforced error.

To the owners, however, it is not an unforced error, because they are not interested in competitiveness or game balance or even the health and wellness of the injured human beings in their employ who accrued their injuries while on the job. They are interested in cash money. They want to protect their asset—the franchise—and make money. It has always been the case, but when not a single owner stuck out their neck to say, “Hey, the lockout isn’t necessary for negotiations, and I think my players should have access to the multi-million dollar fitness facilities and tools that we’ve made available to them,” the man behind the curtain is awfully visible.

Can injured players still get medical care? Yes. Can players still train elsewhere? Yes; players train on their own in the offseason in their hometown all the time, and minor leaguers get by without the resources of a big league team. But there’s the key word: get by. MLB teams make multi-million dollar investments in their fitness programs because getting by is a good way to lose baseball games.

Though the exact figure isn’t publicly available, by what is available, the median MLB owner has a net worth of around $1 billion. Meanwhile, the median MLB salary is $1.5 million per year, and a 2007 study found that the average MLB career is about five and a half years long—with 20% of all MLB careers ending after one year. That’s one in five players who make a few hundred thousand dollars in the big leagues and then never return.

But even if you don’t care about how much the players make, you should probably care that your favorite team is doing what they can to make their team better. Unfortunately, the owners did the opposite.