Tonight, at 12:01 EST, Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement will expire, and since talks towards a new deal have progressed as quickly as the owners would have liked, the owners have threatened a vote to lock out the players if a new deal is not reached at the deadline.
Now, this absolutely makes no sense. Major League Baseball is a $10 billion industry, the league is coming off one of its best World Series in a long time and the relationship between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association has been very peaceful since a near strike in 2002.
What also makes no sense is that in the past when there actually was bad blood between the league and the union, there wasn't a threat of a work stoppage right when the collective bargaining agreement expired. The 1990 lockout wasn't imposed until February, two months after the CBA had expired. As for the 1994 Strike, the players didn't walk out until August, which meant more than two-thirds of the season was played without a collective bargaining agreement. The same happened in 2002. Most of that season was played without a CBA in place, and the strike date wasn't until Aug. 30. A deal was reached at the very last second, within a minute of the players' imposed deadline.
Both sides are meeting tirelessly today to get a deal done before the current CBA expires. My honest bet, and maybe it's just hope, but my honest bet is that the threat of a lockout is just tough talk by the owners to get a deal done. If a deal is not struck tonight, I expect both sides will agree to temporarily extend the current CBA. There seems to be a path to a new deal, and the annual Winter Meetings are set to take place next week, which puts way too much at stake for a work stoppage.
Since the current CBA went into effect before the 2012 season, players' salaries have been at all-time highs, baseball's popularity has soared through the roof and 21 of the 30 teams have reached the playoffs in just five years. Even if a deal isn't struck tonight, the owners would be completely insane to lock out the players out.
I will say this, though. If a lockout happens, and even if it's brief, expect a significant dip in attendance, because the fans will not be so forgiving; especially those who lived through the Strikes of 1981 and 1994. The threat of a lockout, alone, tells me that the owners have truly not learned the lesson of how badly the past work stoppages alienated the fans.