In the wake of the troubling, unfortunate, yet predictable break down of the NBA labor talks, let’s look at a league with labor discussions going rather swimmingly: Major League Baseball. Only weeks removed from the end of the season, the MLB is already about finished with the new labor deal (begging the question once again: why did the NBA wait until October to start getting serious?). This deal would guarantee two straight decades of labor peace after the 94-95 strike, unprecedented since the birth of the MLB Players Association. In fact, the 11th hour deal struck before the 2002 season was the first time a new labor agreement was agreed upon without a strike or lockout. Sure the sides aren’t as far apart as the NBA or even the NFL when negotiations started, but nevertheless the MLB is providing a blueprint for how labor discussion SHOULD work while still going forward with some major changes.
One of these changes is league realignment, making for two even 15 team leagues (something that has made a lot of sense for a long time). The problem has been getting a team to actually move, destroying most of its rivalries and traditional opponents, not to mention the rule changes and some would say competitive upgrade that the American League presents. The Houston Astros seem poised to make that move, with the MLB and former owner Drayton McLane reportedly offering a $70 million discount if the Astros switch leagues. This is interesting as the league is offering significant financial incentives to switch leagues, greatly benefitting MLB. Astros fans are not all happy with this move as they now will be part of the AL West, and, while the Texas Rangers rivalry should benefit, the other three teams in the division are squarely on the west coast and have no history with the Astros.
Another change the MLB is moving towards is the addition of a new wild card spot. This spot would go to the next best record of a team that does not win its division. Management is on board with this idea as it add meaning to more late season games and extra playoff games for more TV revenue. Right now, it appears as if it will be a one game playoff for added drama for TV ratings. Opponents of this plan argue that it would be unfair if one wild card had a significantly better record than the other yet lost in a one game playoff instead of, say, a three game playoff. Regardless, this format seems very likely to come into fruition in the near future and will add an interesting new dimension to the playoffs, the hardest statistically to reach out of the four main sports leagues. It gives smaller market teams a better chance, while teams such as the Yankees tend to already make the playoffs almost every year.
Another point of negotiation is spreading interleague play throughout the season. Because the leagues aren’t geographically spread out and inter league play has lost a bit of its luster, I think this is a good move. Now series like Yankees-Mets or Cubs-White Sox don’t have to be at the same times every year but can be scheduled accordingly. The other changes have to do with the draft with some restrictions on bonuses and how many picks are forfeited through free agency. The changes have teams losing 1st round picks only when star players are signed and not the old Type A standard (which could include players many teams might be more hesitant to sign with the consequences of lost draft picks). The Competitive Balance Taxes are still being worked out, but it certainly looks like we will not come close to missing any baseball in the coming year. If only our basketball friends could be so kind.