Take Me Out to the Ball Game

            I may have mentioned once or twice in this column that I love baseball. In my opinion, it is the perfect game to watch live, listen to on the radio, and play with your friends. It requires athleticism, thoughtfulness, and a sense of humor. It is played on warm summer days in fields of green grass. Perfect.

            But over the last couple of decades, the professional game has become a ghost of its former, glorious self. The length of games, the analytical strategies, and the media production and noise all conspired to take the elemental joy out of the game.

            And then along came the pitch clock this spring, and the game has been reinvigorated. Just a handful of new rules has changed the game for the better. Now what used to take up to a minute between pitches takes at most twenty seconds. The pitcher throws a pitch, gets the ball back, and throws it again. No fussing around. The rules require it.

            And hitters no longer face a stacked left or right side of the field when they mash a hard ground ball or line drive toward the outfield. Basehits are basehits again. Remember when Rickey Henderson stole 130 bases in 1982? Watching him was pure joy. We haven’t seen that kind of baseball in multiple generations. But the stolen base will be back this year, baby.

            What does this have to do with labor and employment law? Plenty, I tell you.

            All these changes that were necessary to resuscitate a dying sport gasping its last breaths on a COVID ventilator came about because management and labor were able to reach an agreement to save the game.

            It may seem like a distant memory, but last year at this time, Major League Baseball was facing the potential of a disastrous lockout that could have crippled the game forever. The negotiations were acrimonious and both sides appeared dug into their immovable positions on matters ranging from minimum salaries, to competitive taxes, and service-time manipulation.

            But shortly after Opening Day was cancelled, the two sides sat down and hashed it all out, coming to a negotiated agreement when their backs were against the wall.

            And one of the great outcomes from that negotiation was establishment of a “Joint Competition Committee” tasked with implementing the new rules to save the game from its own homemade disaster.

            The negotiations worked. And the game appears headed back to relevance and solid footing.

            Prior to reaching that agreement, the league had the right to unilaterally implement rule changes after a one-year notice to the union. With the agreement, the two sides can now work collaboratively to implement changes sooner than one year, with each side having input on deciding what is best for their sport.

            Labor-management relations are often characterized by acrimony and mistrust. But the best outcomes always occur when there is collaboration, cooperation, and mutual trust. Sharing ideas, asking questions, posing hypotheticals, and establishing mutual interests are all important steps in the process of reaching agreement and increasing value for the endeavor.

            This year’s baseball season is going to be fun and exciting. While you are enjoying the games, you should remember that the game’s joy was re-invigorated by labor-management cooperation that resulted in a better and more entertaining sport.

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