MLB Work Stoppages: History of Lockouts, Strikes in Baseball

MLB work stoppages: History of lockouts, strikes in baseball originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

On Dec. 2, Major League Baseball’s owners locked out the players to kick off the ninth work stoppage in the sport’s history.

MLB and the players union are attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the previous CBA expired this offseason. However, the union’s insistence on sweeping changes coupled with the owners’ unwillingness to budge on key issues has resulted in a stalemate that’s already delayed players reporting for spring training.

Yet this work stoppage is far from the most catastrophic that MLB has endured. Here’s a brief history of lockouts and strikes in baseball.

2021-22 lockout

Dates: Dec. 2, 2021 – present

Games Missed: 0

Schedule Effects: Spring training delayed

Issues of contention: Free agency, luxury tax, salary arbitration, competitive integrity, minimum salary, service-time manipulation

Commissioner: Rob Manfred

Twenty-six years of labor peace was interrupted this offseason, when the owners locked out the players as tenuous negotiations got the two sides nowhere. There is no single biggest issue of contention, a testament to just how wide the chasm is between MLB and the union. With no end in sight, this lockout has already delayed players reporting to spring training and Opening Day will be in peril if a deal isn’t reached by the end of February.

1994-95 strike

Dates: Aug. 12, 1994 – March 21, 1995

Games Missed: 948

Schedule Effects: 1994 playoffs cancelled, 1995 shortened by 18 games

Issues of contention: Salary cap

Commissioner: Bud Selig

The most catastrophic work stoppage in MLB history, the 1994-95 strike was a result of the owners' attempting to install a salary cap. MLBPA went on strike midway through the 1994 season. The World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years and the following campaign was affected as well. The MLBPA finally decided to end the strike in March 1995, but it would be two years before a new CBA was finally reached.

1990 lockout

Dates: Feb. 15 – March 18, 1990

Games Missed: 0

Schedule Effects: Opening Day delayed a week, season extended 3 days

Issues of contention: Salary arbitration, free agency, minimum salary

Commissioner: Fay Vincent

MLBPA is famous for its refusal to accept a salary cap, a stance maintained through present day. In February 1990, the owners locked out the players and made their first attempt to put a salary cap on the negotiating table, but it was rebuffed. Perhaps most notably, this work stoppage resulted in the increase of the league’s minimum salary to six figures — $100,000 — for the first time.

1985 strike

Dates: Aug. 6-7, 1985

Games Missed: 2

Schedule Effects: 23 of 25 games missed were rescheduled

Issues of contention: Player pensions, salary arbitration, minimum salary

Commissioner: Peter Ueberroth

A very brief strike, this work stoppage was a result of player pushing for a bigger piece of league revenue after MLB negotiated a lucrative TV deal in 1983. It worked, as the union scored a significant increase in the league’s pension contributions and managed to have the minimum salary raised from $40,000 to $60,000.

1981 strike

Dates: June 12 – July 31, 1981

Games Cancelled: 713

Schedule Effects: Split-season playoff standings

Issues of contention: Free agency, compensation for players lost

Commissioner: Bowie Kuhn

The 1981 strike was at the time the sport’s most damaging work stoppage yet, taking a chunk of nearly two months out of the season. MLB’s owners wanted hefty compensation for losing players to free agency and the players were looking to become free agents sooner than they already were. After meeting in the middle, they resumed the season and decided on a unique playoff structure where the top teams of the first “half” faced off against the best teams from the stretch run in the first round.

1980 strike

Dates: April 1-8, 1980

Games Cancelled: 0

Schedule Effects: Final 8 days of spring training cancelled

Issues of contention: Free agency, compensation for players lost

Commissioner: Bowie Kuhn

A precursor to the 1981 strike, the 1980 work stoppage lasted just eight days until MLB and the union decided to table negotiations over free-agent eligibility and the compensation teams received for losing players until the following year.

1976 lockout

Dates: March 1-17, 1976

Games Cancelled: 0

Schedule Effects: Delayed start of spring training

Issues of Contention: Reserve clause

Commissioner: Bowie Kuhn

The reserve clause, first challenged by Curt Flood in a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court, finally met its match in 1976. Following an arbiter’s decision to nullify the rule that bound players to one team unless they were traded or released, the owners locked out the players in protest. The two sides decided to begin the season without a CBA in place but eventually agreed on a new contract that included the first framework for MLB free agency.

1973 lockout

Dates: Feb. 8-25, 1973

Games Cancelled: 0

Schedule Effects: Delayed start of spring training

Issues of Contention: Salary arbitration

Commissioner: Bowie Kuhn

One year after baseball’s first strike, the owners initiated their first lockout. After arbitration was added to the previous CBA in ’72, the deal expired and the owners sought to have the process more clearly defined in the new contract. After a few weeks of haggling, they reached an agreement on the verbiage and the season started on time.

1972 strike

Dates: April 1-13, 1972

Games Cancelled: 86

Schedule Effects: Games were not made up

Issues of Contention: Player pensions, salary arbitration

Commissioner: Bowie Kuhn

The first work stoppage in MLB history came in the form of a strike, when the players refused to suit up for the first week and a half of the 1972 season over their pension plans and the addition of salary arbitration to the CBA. MLB’s owners ultimately relented on both fronts. The strike did cause some controversy: the Red Sox missed the playoffs by half a game, only made possible because of the games missed.

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