The MLB Lockout: Learning from the Presupposition

by | Feb 8, 2022 | Jesuit 101, Pop Culture, Series, Sports

I’m starting to get a little nervous about the state of baseball these days. 

For more than two months now, the MLB has been in a lockout between the players and owners in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.  Both sides have been at a standstill, with the owners not even submitting a proposal to the players until six weeks after initiating the lockout.  The players made a counteroffer a few days later, and negotiations are beginning to occur more frequently.  However, there is still a large gap between what the two sides are asking.

If I knew these negotiations were done in good faith and for the good of the game, I would have fewer concerns.  What disappoints me is how the discourse is so biased.  The owners portray the players as spoiled and selfish.  The commissioner even stated on the first day of negotiations that the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) “came to the bargaining table with a strategy of confrontation over compromise.” 1   

It seems to me that the MLBPA is likely looking for some sense of victory after feeling that the owners have tipped the balance more and more in their favor over the last few decades (and their overt distaste for the commissioner).  Some players even changed their Twitter profile pictures to silhouettes  in response to MLB websites being unable to use the image and likeness of current players.

And there are potentially serious consequences for delaying the start of baseball season..  Offsetting the start of the 2022 season, which as of now is very much a possibility, could force the league to make changes that distort the the typical rhythms of season and postseason, similar to what happened during the height of the pandemic two years ago.  And even though baseball is still somewhat popular, it’s nothing like the glory days of old. This lockout threatens to tank baseball’s standing even more in the US.  

As a baseball fan, I am understandably frustrated and disappointed when I see that my favorite game has been locked out for two months with few signs of hope on the immediate horizon.  I think the MLB can take some good advice from St. Ignatius of Loyola.  In the Spiritual Exercises, he includes a piece of advice called “The Presupposition” (sometimes called “Annotation 22”).  The idea is that, in dialogue or discussion, to assume the best interpretation of the other side and to work from there.

Neither side in this lockout seems to have been able to take this piece of advice so far. As the commissioner’s opening statement indicates, there is currently little good will that exists between both parties. The owners are asking the MLBPA to make further, drastic concessions after a series of losing Collective Bargaining Agreements.  They can’t help but notice how the MLB is less popular than it once was, and they see the players’ demands as money-grubbing in a “losing” market.

But what if the two sides both looked, not to their own good, but to the good of the game of baseball they both love so much?  What if they were both able to set aside their own pride and work towards this common goal? 

This sort of thinking is more in line with the Presupposition.  Ignatius doesn’t call for people to assume the best interpretation for sake of minimizing conflict.  That could make one side a pushover.  Instead, he calls for a mutual desire to seek understanding, even if that entails disagreement. Ultimately, we’re supposed to desire what’s good not only for ourselves, but for others too.  And in this case, the return of baseball is beneficial to both sides.  When the game comes back, owners make money off ticket sales and merchandise, and the players earn their salaries and play the game they love.

 But both parties must be open to some form of compromise in order to make these mutual goods possible.This may entail that both sides will  have to eat a little crow in these negotiations.  But the key to this negotiation is  not the money in their pockets. It’s the good of the game. That should make the crow worth it.