Report: MLB lockout talks to resume after 42-day break

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball and the players’ association are scheduled to meet, ending a 42-day break in negotiations that began when management started a lockout, the sport’s first work stoppage since 1995.

With the scheduled start of spring training five weeks away, management was planning to make a new proposal to players, several people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.

The sides last met Dec. 1 in Irving, Texas, a brief session that broke off hours before the collective bargaining agreement expired. Since then, negotiations have been limited to peripheral issues. The meeting Thursday is scheduled to be conducted by video conference.

MLB payrolls dropped 4% in 2021 compared to the league’s last full season in 2019, and the $4.05 billion total was the lowest in a fully completed year since 2015.

Players have asked for liberalized eligibility for free agency and salary arbitration, raising the luxury tax threshold from $210 million to $245 million, changes to spark increased competition among clubs and measures to address what the union claims is service time manipulation.

Management has offered to increase the tax threshold to $214 million, to extend the designated hitter to the National League and to eliminate draft pick compensation for losing players in free agency, a provision that has existed in various forms since 1976.

Both sides would increase the minimum salary, players from $570,500 to $775,000 this season and management to a series of tiers: $600,000 for players with less than a year of big league service, $650,000 for at least one but less than two and $700,000 for at least two.

Negotiators also have discussed an NBA-style draft lottery, but management would limit it to the top three teams and the union would expand it to the top eight. Players would reward small-market teams with additional draft picks for success, such as making the playoffs or finishing with a winning record.

Retired pitcher David Cone, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee during the 1994-95 strike, views the issues as less contentious than during the previous stoppage, when players fought off management’s proposal for a salary cap.

“I think there is the framework for a deal. Back in the mid-90s there was two completely different frameworks,” Cone, now an analyst for the Yankees’ YES Network and ESPN, said. “They are within the same framework: Where does the luxury tax fall? Can the players address control issues and competitive teams instead of tanking? Or service time manipulation certainly is an issue. So control issues on the player side, but the framework I believe is there for a deal. At some point I believe it’s going to happen.”

Baseball’s ninth work stoppage began Dec. 2, its ninth since 1972 but first since the 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95.

Spring training is scheduled to start Feb. 16 in Florida and Arizona, and opening day is set for March 31.

With the need for at least three weeks of spring training and time for players to arrive and go through COVID protocols, an agreement by about March 5 is needed for an on-time start to the season.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. He joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Biden supported Major League Baseball’s decision to pull this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law that critics contend is too restrictive.