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OC Register: Hoornstra: 5 wrinkles to MLB’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement

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Dodgers outfielder James Outman wore a microphone during the Dodgers’ recent Friday night game against the St. Louis Cardinals, an Apple TV+ broadcast. I approached him in the clubhouse before the game and asked him if he was nervous about how it would go.

“As long as the microphone’s not too heavy,” he said.

“No, I mean are you worried about what you might say?” I replied.

“Oh no,” Outman said. If anything controversial came out of his mouth, “(A Dodgers official) said he would scrub it.”

This week I was able to perform a fact check about the in-game microphone process Outman described. (Spoiler alert: true!). The stipulations around the in-game microphones are only one wrinkle of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which went into effect prior to last season but was not made available online until this week.

The CBA contains many facts and figures that have already been reported, like where the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds lie and the minimum major league player salary – major details that were debated tooth and nail, almost around the clock, until the final verbiage was agreed to on March 10, 2022.

The minutiae are fun, too. The small details reveal something about how the game promotes and polices itself (or doesn’t). Keep in mind that nothing makes its way into the CBA without just cause.

Here are a few highlights of how the CBA has changed since the last one expired in 2021:

1. In-game microphones

Love ’em or hate ’em, the days of players being mic’d up while they play are here to stay (through the end of the 2026 season, at least).

Outman said he didn’t volunteer for his Apple TV+ assignment, but he didn’t object when the Dodgers official approached him. It’s hard to blame anyone who signs up: Players get $10,000 when they wear a two-way microphone (i.e., a mic connected to the broadcast booth for an interview) for a full inning during the regular season and $15,000 during the postseason.

Here’s the interesting part. Players can say whatever they want while they’re mic’d up. The CBA places the burden on the broadcast network to “scrub” any controversial remarks or “other audio” from one-way microphones that “would embarrass, be prejudicial to, detrimental to, or critical of, Major League Baseball, the Players Association, the individual wearing the microphone, players, fans or umpires, include any profanity … or likely would be construed as inflammatory.”

Even criticism in languages other than English on a live mic are banned from broadcasts.

2. Stricter policing of marijuana abuse

In 2016, when the previous CBA went into effect, only nine states had legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes; another 14 states have signed on since.

Not surprisingly, the Treatment Board created by the Joint Drug Agreement is now responsible for treating players with a “marijuana use problem.” Players can be recommended (but not forced) to seek treatment if they are charged with driving under the use of marijuana, or any other marijuana-related crime. They can also be recommended to the Board if a player “appears intoxicated” by marijuana during a game, practice, workout or meeting, or is merely suspected of having a problem.

3. Social media highlights

Ever wonder how a player’s social media accounts became a steady stream of high-quality in-game video highlights? A clause was written into the new CBA providing players an easier process to share their highlights via social media, as provided by the league (via their broadcast partners), as long as they do not inject any sponsorship insignia into the highlights. Players and their agents can also customize slow-motion replays using the Greenfly app.

It’s one way MLB is going above and beyond its established baseline for promoting its own players – not unlike the NBA, where visual highlights have long been standard currency. “For players who desire to receive additional content than provided for by this Program, or assistance in developing or distributing content on their platforms,” the CBA explains, “MLB’s Social Media team will help customize programs to achieve the goals of the players.”

4. Gambling, gambling, gambling!

MLB’s cozy relationship with gaming companies has come under justifiable scrutiny. After all, this is a sport that did everything to distance itself from organized and disorganized gambling for a century. In the early 1980s, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were banned for life because they took jobs as public-facing “ambassadors” with Atlantic City casinos. (Their bans were later rescinded.)

Now, in a complete 180, the new CBA allows players to “engage in promotional or endorsement activities” on behalf of “products that involve or enable legal betting.” (Underline not mine.) It specifically differentiates a player’s ability to sponsor or promote a business that allows users to wager on fantasy baseball while banning them from participating in these exact games. Got it?

But wait, there’s more. “Major League Players may participate in legal fantasy games relating to sports other than baseball for prizes or other things of value.” Perhaps this CBA is betting against (pun intended) another two-sport athlete like Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders over the next four seasons.

5. Broken bat blues

A sport that routinely spews shards of wood in the direction of innocent bystanders ought to do something to limit the dangers therein. This CBA agrees.

The CBA authorizes the Safety and Health Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives from MLB and the Players’ Association, to make recommendations about bat safety based on manufacturer-specific data.

For example: “by November 15 each year, the Committee’s consultants will submit to the Parties a list of Players who incurred a high number of multiple-piece bat failures (“MPFs”) during the prior season. Each Player on the list will be required to complete a preseason consultation with the MLBPA and the Committee’s consultants, at which the Player will be provided with information and advice regarding the selection of bat models to reduce the Player’s MPFs.”

The manufacturers whose bats incur the most “multiple-piece failures” will be put on notice during the subsequent Winter Meetings, and asked to produce an action plan for improving the durability of their most breakable bats.

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