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On This Date in Sports August 30, 2002: Last Minute Save

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For the first time in three decades, baseball gets a new Collective Bargaining Agreement without a work stoppage. The new four-year deal comes after a marathon overnight negotiation session between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association. In the agreement, players get a promise that no teams will be contracted while allowing owners to put restraints on salaries.

Major League Baseball and its Players’ Association had been at war for years. Since 1972, there has been some labor action each time there was a need for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In 1972 the players went on strike for the first time at the start of the season, demanding free agency; after 13 days, the two sides reached an agreement that allowed players to go to Binding Arbitration for new contracts.  Spring Training was interrupted in 1973, 1976, and 1980 as players gained Free Agency. In 1981, things apart as a strike wiped out two months of the season, with the two sides haggling over Free Agent compensation. Four years later, a strike lasted just two days, as Commissioner Peter Ueberroth quickly made concessions, not wanting to damage the game. Similar accommodations were made in 1990 by Fay Vincent when a lockout delayed the start of spring training by a month. Owners unhappy with the commissioner’s role in the last two labor stoppages forced Vincent out and made Bud Selig their man as the battle lines were drawn.

With Bud Selig, Owner of the Milwaukee Brewers serving as commissioner, the 1994 strike would take things to a new level, as the season ended on August 12th, with both the playoffs and World Series canceled, as the two sides refused to negotiate. Following a nuclear winter, Spring Training began with replacement players preparing to start the season until the Players’ Association got an injunction to block it. The ruling by New York Circuit Judge Sonya Sotomayor allowed the sport to resume, but the damage was done as it took an additional two years to get a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

When negotiations for a new CBA began at the start of the 2002 season, both sides were aware of how much the sport was hurt by the loss of the 1994 postseason. Still, it appeared a long battle was coming, and Owners began the year saying there were going to contract the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos, each struggling financially. Contraction would become a big issue as Players threatened to walk out if a deal was not reached by August 30th. Unlike in 1994, the two sides agreed to meet the day before the deadline. Negotiations passed the midnight deadline as the two sides began to progress toward a deal. The main combatants were the same as in 1994, with Donald Fehr representing the MLBPA and Bud Selig, the league’s commissioner doing the owner’s bidding. Each knew the repercussions of another nuclear winter, which included the loss of two or four teams, as the Milwaukee Brewers and Florida Marlins were added to the contraction discussions. Sunrise came, but there was no deal in place as players were in limbo for Friday’s scheduled games. The first began at 1:20 CDT between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Players reported to the stadium, not knowing if there would be a game. If a deal was not reached by the first pitch, the game would be canceled and would likely scuttle any progress made in the morning. With this threat hanging over the meeting, the two sides finally agreed on a deal.

The players made minor concessions to get the deal done for the first time, as contraction was taken off the table for the next five years. Owners meanwhile increased the luxury tax first put in place with the 1997 Collective Bargaining Agreement. This allowed for more significant revenue sharing to help boost struggling clubs, while players agreed to allow random testing for steroids. This issue would be more critical after congressional hearings in the coming years.

The Montreal Expos, who since 1994 had been dying a slow death and were clearly in line for contraction, got new life thanks to the new CBA, but it would not be in Montreal as the team moved to Washington, becoming the Nationals in 2005. The Minnesota Twins, also considered on the chopping block, went on to play in the ALCS as they began a string of three straight Central Divisional Championships. This led to the building of a new stadium, as baseball’s new labor peace started a period of unprecedented growth in the game. Three new Collective Bargaining Agreements have been enacted since those marathon sessions saved the 2002 season, with the only talk of a strike being on a thrown ball by a pitcher.