MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Owners on same page as players in labor talks

Bodley: Owners, players on same page

Baseball was still nursing its deep wounds on Sept. 6, 1995, when Cal Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game, surpassing Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record that many deemed impossible to break.

As Ripken jogged around sold-out Oriole Park at Camden Yards during his celebrated "victory tour," I sat in the press box and the overwhelming thought was, "Baseball is back. Cal's achievement has buried the hangover from the recently ended and devastating 232-day players strike."

No antidote could have been more effective.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are poised to sign off on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will ensure labor peace through 2017, an unbelievable run of 22 seasons.

Not even in the midst of the Ripken euphoria did I ever envision these two sides, the owners and players, would build such a lasting relationship. The hatred and acrimony on both sides was never understated.

Thursday was a good example of this new era.

When Major League owners, meeting in Milwaukee, approved sale of the Astros to businessman Jim Crane, and they revealed that the team will move from the National League Central to the AL West, it was announced matter-of-factly "during the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations, the Office of the Commissioner collaborated with the MLB Players Association on these developments."

That's how far the relationship has come.

Current Commissioner Bud Selig once said that when he bought the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, Marvin Miller, then the union chief, and Bowie Kuhn, then the Commissioner, were going 15 rounds every day.

I covered the eight work stoppages over 23 years, with the 1994-95 strike that caused the disgraceful cancellation of the '94 World Series by far the worst.

If there was one thing I learned during most of those negotiations it was that baseball always had a way of shooting itself in the foot. And during that period which began in 1972 with a 13-day strike, the aggressive union was better organized and, for the most part, had the continuity of the same negotiating team.

The owners were overmatched, up against arguably the strongest labor union in the world.

Baseball management repeatedly changed its lead negotiator, brought in new attorneys and added to the tension with hot-button issues it knew the union would not negotiate -- a salary cap, for example.

Labor issues were escalating in September 1992 when Major League owners forced Commissioner Fay Vincent out of office and appointed Selig interim Commissioner, a post he held until he took the position permanently in 1998.

Selig was at the controls on Aug. 12, 1994, when the players struck over salary-cap and revenue-sharing issues. The work stoppage didn't end until March 31, 1995. The backlash, fueled by angry fans, lasted most of that season, but there was an awakening and a revival when the popular Ripken broke Gehrig's record.

I firmly believe baseball stands alone with labor peace today because of lessons learned during the 1994-95 strike.

It was so detrimental, so distasteful for everyone connected with the game, that allowing it to happen again was something both sides easily recognized should not happen.

I must mention, however, that in the first negotiation after the strike, in 2002, talks went to the 11th hour. A strike was avoided when the union, pressured by some of its key members, agreed to a compromise.

Since then, negotiations -- at least on the surface -- have gone smoothly.

The newest CBA will be the second straight negotiated with little fanfare.

That makes sense, because in an industry as healthy as it has ever been -- with solid attendance and revenues of about $7.5 billion -- there's no reason for bickering.

Selig deserves much of the credit.

Obviously, lessons were learned from the 1994-95 strike, but aside from demanding open communications between management and the players union, Selig has also been able to get MLB owners on the same page.

That has been an enormous undertaking, an achievement that I believe has been the solid foundation for labor peace.

Selig is also responsible for establishing an effective negotiating team headed by Rob Manfred, who in turn has continued the solid labor footing with a strong relationship with union chief Michael Weiner.

"The opportunity to maintain labor peace is something both sides recognize," Weiner has repeatedly said.

As negotiations for the new CBA have progressed there has been little media coverage. In the past inflammatory comments from either side stalled talks.

Not once have I heard the word strike or lockout.

When the new agreement is finally announced, it will be dutifully reported.

But it will be far from breaking news.

That really is THE news.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.