IRVING, Texas – Major League Baseball locked its players out early Thursday morning, certifying the game’s first work stoppage in more than a quarter of a century after months of talks with little progress towards a new contract of work.

The long-awaited lockout, which the league told the players’ union it would initiate once the previous collective agreement expired after 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, ends the trading frenzy that led to its imposition and sends the industry in a dark time with little light in sight.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred expressed disappointment with the lockout, but said he believed it was “the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season.”

“Despite the league’s best efforts to strike a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26-year history of workplace peace and reach a deal with MLBPA prior to the current ABC expires, “Manfred wrote in a prepared statement. . “As a result, we were forced to begin a lockdown of Major League players, effective 12:01 am ET on December 2nd. “

During a lockout, which is a labor relations tool used by management to keep employees from working until a deal is reached, team managers and players cannot communicate under any circumstances. . Free major league agencies and player exchanges on the 40-player rosters end immediately.

The major league portion of baseball’s winter meetings has been canceled, although they will continue on the minor league side.

In three days of bargaining this week, the union and the league exchanged proposals that, like the previous ones, left the other side perplexed and illustrated the chasm between the parties. The final talks between the leaders of the two camps on Wednesday afternoon lasted seven minutes.

The MLBPA also released a statement early Thursday morning, calling the lockdown “a dramatic step any time.”

“It was the owners’ choice, clear and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players to forgo their rights and benefits, and abandon good faith bargaining proposals that will not benefit Just Players, but to the game and to the industry as a whole, ”said the MLBPA in its statement. “These tactics are not new. We have been here before and the players have lived up to it time and time again, guided by a solidarity that has been forged over generations. We will do it again here.

“We remain committed to returning to the field under the terms of a negotiated collective agreement that is fair to all parties and offers fans the best version of the game we all love.”

The labor peace had corresponded to immense growth in gaming revenues since a players’ strike wiped out the 1994 World Series and lasted until 1995. Over the next 26 years, the union and the league negotiated. successfully five collective agreements without work stoppage after having had eight in the previous 23 years.

Now, baseball faces its ninth work stoppage and fourth lockout (and the first since 1990) with no clear path to a deal. Throughout the game, players, owners, and executives were heartened by the days leading up to the lockdown, in which teams lavished more than $ 1.4 billion in free agent contracts on the players. The deal’s closing was not repeated in the Four Seasons Dallas negotiating room in Las Colinas, where the league and union, continuing a trend from 2020, have made little headway in talks.

Panic did not immediately accompany the lockout decision. The next 90 days, sources say, will serve as a more realistic track for a deal than the run-up to the expiration of the deal which covered the 2017-2021 seasons. The previous three lockouts haven’t missed any of the matches. regular season, and if the league and union want the same in 2022, they can strike a deal no later than early March.

Hopes of an 11-hour deal quickly faded, sources say. In a proposal on Tuesday, the union maintained its desire for players to gain faster access to free agency and for wage arbitration to come after a player’s second season rather than his third. It was part of a proposal that mirrored previous offers from the union, to which the league did not respond in any of its proposals.

The previous MLB proposal had done little to allay concerns expressed by the union about artificial restrictions on free will, tanking, paying players earlier in their careers and manipulation of duty time. . The league proposed removing direct compensation for the draft – teams are currently penalized for signing top free agents – and suggested a draft lottery to deter teams from tanking for a higher draft position. The proposed lottery would only cover the top three choices. It also raised the competitive equilibrium tax threshold beyond the current $ 210 million mark to $ 214 million, a far cry from the $ 245 million proposed by the union most recently.

Players headed for MLB’s desire to expand the playoffs with a proposal to drop from 10 teams to 12, although it fell short of the 14-team plan proposed by the league. While the MLB is not fundamentally opposed to paying players earlier in their careers, its desire to do so while keeping salaries stable remains a problematic sticking point amid discussions that follow years of revenue growth in the league. industry and an average salary that has remained stable.

“We hope the lockout will restart negotiations and bring us to a deal that will allow the season to start on time,” Manfred said in his statement. “This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It just isn’t a viable option. From the start, MLBPA didn’t did not want to leave his starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions. “

More than 60 players gathered for talks led by Bruce Meyer, who the union hired as chief negotiator following the fallout from the latest deal, and MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem. Other key participants in the negotiations included the league’s labor policy group, led by Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, and the union’s executive subcommittee, with longtime reliever Andrew Miller participating alongside Meyer in smaller negotiating frameworks.

The tenor of the conversations mimicked that of the controversial talks last year when the league and union attempted to negotiate the form of a season in the midst of the pandemic. The proposals on either side were very different and rarely out of place, and instead of a negotiated settlement, Manfred imposed a 60-game season.

While the parties have managed to work well together on ancillary issues, divergent philosophies over the basic economics of the game led to a wedge in the negotiations that barely budged. The parties have yet to find common ground, and the coming months, with spring formation looming, are more likely to better illustrate where they can find it.

“Today is a tough day for baseball, but like I’ve said all year, there is a path to a fair deal, and we will find it,” Manfred said in his statement. “I have no doubt that the League and the players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans. I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to develop, protect and strengthen the game we love. . MLB is ready to work tirelessly to achieve this goal. I urge the Players’ Association to join us at the table. “

In the meantime, this is the closest recent return to baseball’s old labor relations, in which the parties fought consistently, with work stoppages in 1972 (strike), 1973 (lockout). , 1976 (lock-out), 1980 (strike) and 1981 (strike). Time will tell if this era of work portends anything different.