Collective Bargaining Agreement Foo, Part I

As a lawyer by trade, I feel a certain obligation to occasionally provide a little legal analysis, as Wendy Thurm does over at fangraphs.com.  However, since I write this blog mainly as a baseball fan, I can’t resist mixing said legal analysis with the kinds of factoids most baseball fans (including this one) love.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the current collective bargaining agreement (2012-2016) between the teams and the players.

During contract negotiations, teams can require a player to appear in person at the team’s offices only once.  If so, the team must pay the player first class airfare and hotel accommodations and the regular season meal-and-tip allowance (not surprising that a labor union would require the employer to pay for the player’s reasonable tips to service persons for the meals they eat).

The only thing surprising about this provision is that players can still be required to appear even once in person in an era when the right to have a professional agent conduct the negotiations is so entrenched.  This clearly harkens back to the days when teams made players, all of whom are relatively young, come in to negotiate with General Managers who were always older and more far experienced than the players.

The 162-game schedule must be played within 172 to 183 games unless a team starts the season with games played abroad.

The rules concerning playing split-game double-headers (fans have to pay twice) after rain-outs are quite detailed.  The Red Sox and the Cubs have special provisions that apply only to them in this regard, almost certainly because they play more day games than other teams in the current era.

The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has provisions regarding what happens when post-season games have to be cancelled that are almost certainly the result of the 1989 Earthquake World Series, when the San Franciso Giants and the Oakland A’s had to take a week off because of the Loma Prieta Earthquake.  History does matter; and since the CBA is a mature contract (negotiated and revised many times by now) in a mature industry, the CBA is full of provisions that reflect specific situations that have occurred during the long bargaining history.

In the current CBA, exhibition games (i.e., non-league games) during the regular season are expressly banned.  This is interesting because from the advent of professional league baseball in 1871 though at least 1971, exhibition games were a given.  Until the late 1880’s, major league teams played at least as many games against non-league opponents as they did against league teams, and, although the number of exhibition games steadily decreased over time, the playing of exhibition games lasted a full 100 hundred years.  Needless to say, the exhibition games were essentially unpaid, so it was only a matter of time before the players’ union did away with them.

As of the 2013 season, players get at least one day off during Spring Training.  This is hardly surprising, as Spring Training has been starting earlier over time during the last generation.  There’s too much money in the game now not to have major league players training nearly year ’round.

For what it’s worth, Spring Training starts in mid-January in Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO.  In fact, the KBO players’ association is “investigating” whether the Nexen Heroes set a mandatory work-out day on December 12, 2014 in violation of an agreement not to conduct unpaid training sessions between December 1st and January 15th.  Asian culture does not favor strong labor unions fighting hard for workers’ rights, so it’s unclear whether the KBO players’ association will, or even can, file a formal grievance if an agreement has been violated, if a formal written agreement exists.

Throughout baseball, what it comes down to is this: teams want players to train during the off-season, but they don’t want to pay them to do it, particularly given what they now pay players during the regular season.  The motivated players train themselves, the unmotivated ones do not, with relatively predictably results.

MLB players have been paid for Spring Training since about 1946, only because a lawyer named Murphy tried to form a ballplayers’ “Guild” to contest some of the grosser abuses teams foisted on players in those days.  To this day, the money that players get to attend Spring Training is still called “Murphy Money” in MLB circles.  The players also got their first pension benefits as a result of Murphy’s efforts.

I always thought that most off-days in MLB were Mondays and Thursdays simply and solely because they were determined by history to be the worst attendance days (you can make beer out of wheat, and bread out of barley, but the determination of history is that wheat makes better bread, and barley makes better beer).  It turns out that the CBA includes terms which also favor these days off.

Under the current CBA, teams can’t start an away game after 5:00 p.m. before a “home” off-day, unless the game is broadcast on national television (i.e., Sunday night Games of the Week).  Sundays are the last day when baseball games are routinely scheduled for day-time (typically around 1:00 p.m.) start times.  This also explains why almost all day-time mid-week games are played on Wednesdays (since Thursday is typically a day off).

Until night-time baseball became a regular occurrence after WWII, almost all major league games were played with late 3:00 O’clock start times on week days, 1:00 p.m. start times on Saturdays and noon start times for Sunday doubleheaders.  As time passed, Sunday has become the only day with regular mid-day start times.  However, the CBA rules designed to give players at least one full day off a week in season mean that there will almost always be at least one day-game every week.

As a final note, teams cannot start games before 12 noon more than four times a season, except in circumstances under the both the CBA rules and the economics of MLB which almost never happen.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball History, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A's, San Francisco Giants

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