Major League Baseball owners and players announced a contract agreement extending a two-decade era of labor peace and including the first blood tests for human growth hormone at the top level of North American professional team sports.
The five-year deal was announced at a news conference in New York after months of negotiations between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Baseball, which had eight work stoppages from 1972 to 1994, avoided the labor problems that led to lockouts this year in the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.
“This is a good day for baseball, not just because of what we avoided, but because of what we actually achieved,” said Michael Weiner, head of the players union.
The agreement increases the playoff field by two teams, expands the use of instant replay to fair-foul and catch-trap calls, raises the minimum pay for major-league players and bans the display of tobacco products by players, managers and coaches, including carrying pouches and tins of smokeless tobacco in their uniforms.
It also restricts contracts for players selected by teams in the MLB draft -- such as the $15 million, four-year contract that Stephen Strasburg signed with the Washington Nationals after they chose him with the top pick in 2009.
“Our perspective on this negotiation was that we wanted to enhance competitive balance, because we feel that competitive balance is crucial to the product that we put on the field,” Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice president for labor relations and human resources, said at the news conference.
Baseball and the union were ridiculed by the U.S. Congress and an independent investigation when several top players were among those who acknowledged steroid use or tested positive for such substances in the past decade. The sport already had testing in the minor leagues for HGH, a muscle-enhancing substance that is most reliably found in blood samples rather than urine specimens.
All players will be tested in spring training starting in 2012, and during the year for reasonable cause, according to the agreement. Random, unannounced testing will begin in the 2012-13 offseason.
“This is a monumental accomplishment, because it shows that both sides have a concerted interest in the welfare of the game and not just for the players individually,” Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at New York University, said in a telephone interview. “It shows we have learned some lessons from the steroids era. It will have a major effect on how the NFL and other leagues conduct business.”
The NFL, the most-watched U.S. sports league with $9 billion in annual revenue, agreed with its players to test for HGH in the contract that ended a lockout in August. The NFL Players Association has since said it’s concerned over the accuracy of HGH tests and none have been conducted this season.
George Atallah, an NFLPA spokesman, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on the baseball agreement.
The new baseball deal raises the major-league minimum salary to $480,000 in 2012 from $414,000, with subsequent increases every year until 2014, according to a joint release from MLB and the union.
The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire Dec. 11.
Owners voted at a meeting in Milwaukee last week to create an extra tier of playoffs and to add a fifth postseason team in each league. Starting in 2013 the two teams in each league with the best overall record among clubs that didn’t win a division will meet in a one-game wild-card playoff, with the winner advancing to the division series.
The league has until March 1, 2012, to decide whether to adopt the expanded format next season. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said he is “more than very hopefully” that there will be two wild-card teams from each league in the playoffs in 2012.
The playoff changes were approved when owners cleared the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane, who agreed to shift the team to the American League from the National League.
The Astros’ move, which will balance the leagues at 15 teams each and make scheduling easier, will require interleague play throughout the regular season. The Astros will become the first major league team to change leagues since 1998, when the Milwaukee Brewers moved to the NL Central division from the AL Central.
A tax will be imposed on teams that exceed predetermined salary ranges on draft picks. McDonnell, who created NYU’s “The Business of Baseball” course, said the change may have a “profound effect” on teams such as the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates that habitually finish low in the standings and get high draft picks.
“It’s going to encourage the teams to not grossly overpay for amateur talent and maybe put it back into their 25- or 40-man roster,” he said. “It’s going to force the smaller-market teams to put more structure and thought into how much they want to pay.”