The Major League Baseball labor negotiations have dragged on to such an extent, and the tenor has been so life-sappingly negative throughout, that the prospect of actual live baseball games in three weeks feels like a surreal surprise. And yet here we are.
At the edge of yet another MLB-imposed deadline — there were at least three previous ones, all of them missed — the league and its players union finally came to a tentative deal Thursday afternoon, ending the 99-day lockout and clearing players to report to spring training as early as Friday. The start of the regular season has been pushed to April 7, one week late, but all 162 games will be on the schedule. (I hope you like doubleheaders.)
There are all sorts of parameters to dig into on the deal itself. But its provisions highlight the maddening fact that throughout this stalemate, the two sides were never really that far apart. The final terms of the deal ended up with the league and the union mostly meeting in the middle on the major financial issues that made up the crux of their disagreements. As the unfortunate souls who still deeply care about the sport have noticed, this is something that probably could have been achieved months ago. The only changes most fans will notice:
• The designated hitter is now a part of the National League full time.
• There will be advertisements on uniforms. (Expect a lot of Crypto.)
• Two more playoff teams, bringing a total of 12.
• No more fun tiebreak games at the end of the regular season. Because of the compressed postseason schedule (and the extra teams involved), the league will adopt NFL-style tiebreakers instead. We’ll never have a Bucky Dent game again.
There are also a lot of internal MLB tweaks involving the draft, minimum salaries, arbitration, and other stuff baseball wonks obsess over but normal people don’t care about. None of it was enough to provoke the rancor that overtook the negotiations from the beginning. The only thing that matters to most people, and probably should matter to most people, is there is a deal, baseball is going to start soon, you’re about to see an absolute madhouse of roster moves … and a new contract means none of us has to go through this again for another five years. Which might be the best news of all.