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The MLB's season start is canceled as players and owners fail to reach a labor deal

A baseball fan stands outside Roger Dean Stadium as Major League Baseball negotiations continued earlier this week in Jupiter, Fla.
Lynne Sladky
A baseball fan stands outside Roger Dean Stadium as Major League Baseball negotiations continued earlier this week in Jupiter, Fla.

Major League Baseball announced Tuesday it's canceling the start of the upcoming regular season, which was scheduled to begin March 31st.

The announcement follows the breakdown of labor negotiations between owners and players, who've been locked out since the beginning of last December.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he's canceling each team's first two series of the season, totaling 91 games. Players won't be paid for games they don't play.

This is the first time regular season games have been cancelled because of a work stoppage since the disastrous player's strike in the 1994-95 season.

"I'm really disappointed," Manfred said after the player's union rejected the owners' most recent offer Tuesday afternoon. "This is a first time situation. Since we've gone to interleague play, we've never cancelled games."

Baseball introduced interleague play in 1997, where a National League team plays one from the American League.

When he was asked why games are being cancelled, instead of postponed and rescheduled, as has been the case during the coronavirus pandemic, Manfred said the unique nature of interleague play makes it impossible.

"Every single day, you have an interleague series, where those teams are not [playing each other] enough to make rescheduling feasible," Manfred said.

Huge gaps remain between players and owners

The two sides can't reach agreement on a number of key issues, including player minimum salaries, the size of a bonus pool for players before they're eligible for salary arbitration, when players become eligible for arbitration, and the Competitive Balance Tax, also known as a luxury tax, which essentially acts to restrain what teams spend on players salaries.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Manfred apologized to baseball fans.

"Our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party," Manfred said. "The players came [to Florida for negotiations] for nine days. They worked hard, they tried to make a deal and I appreciate their effort. Our committee of club representatives committed to the process, they offered compromise after compromise and hung in past the deadline [originally Monday], to make sure that we exhausted every possibility of reaching an agreement before the cancellation of games."

MLB's union call this a "sad day" and said it would take time

But Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, questioned whether owners really did put in the maximum effort.

Speaking after Manfred, Clark, who called today a "sad day," said the changes and improvements the players have wanted take time to resolve.

"It's why we started the process when we did [last] April," Clark said. "It's why we made the core economic proposals we did in the first part of May. It's why we remained available, whether on Zoom or as the pandemic afforded us the opportunity to meet in person, we made ourselves available then."

"It's why we stood ready for six weeks after the lockout on December 1st, ready to have a discussion," he added. "It's remarkably interesting, against the backdrop of the things that needed to be worked through, to find ourselves on February 28th, [and] over the course of the last week, working through the issues that quite honestly need to be and could have been and should have been discussed in more depth much earlier than they were."

Manfred said the earliest the two sides can meet again is this Thursday, although nothing's been scheduled.

And with each day of no new contract, baseball's work stoppage will continue and more games will be crossed off the schedule.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.