How a high-stakes 18 days during the MLB lockout paved the road to Opening Day

AP Photo/John Minchillo

OVER THE 18 frenzied days that saved baseball, there were two all-nighters, dozens of Zoom sessions and countless livid text messages. There was hope and dread, threats and bluffs, truths and lies, deadlines set and broken, pessimism and, finally, triumph. Opening Day is nigh, the 2022 Major League Baseball season set to begin, but if not for those 2½ weeks in which the league and players resolved their differences and ended the owners' 99-day lockout, Thursday would be just another day in April.

"I'm not sure people understand just how close we were to doomsday," said one player representative who voted in favor of the March 10 deal that brought back the game -- and who, like many others, requested anonymity to speak freely on the negotiations. "This was a disaster already. And it could've been much, much, much worse."

By the time both parties arrived for a summit in Jupiter, Florida, on Feb. 21, marking the beginning of the sprint toward a deal, 10 months of disappointment and disillusionment had been building. Starting with the first talks on a new collective bargaining agreement April 20, 2021, MLB and the union brought baseball to the precipice of a labor conflict that at far too many points seemed certain to break the sport.

From the beginning, almost everyone was primed for a fight. The prior two basic agreements, in 2011 and 2016, tilted in favor of the league, and players vowed to win back at least some of what they lost -- to get players paid more at younger ages, to fix blatant manipulation of service time, to address the tanking that goes against the very nature of competitive sport. Owners were prepared to dig in. If they couldn't break the union, at very least they'd bend it to their will -- and get an expanded postseason, the right to implement new rules aimed to fix the on-field product and an international draft. With so many changes desired, a work stoppage was an inevitability. For more than a year, front-office and league sources said, a lockout was openly discussed among MLB personnel.