The Major League Baseball Players Association has voted to extend the contract of executive director Tony Clark, according to Evan Drellich of The Athletic. His previous extension was set to expire at the end of the year, but he will now stay on through 2027. Since the new collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2026 season, Clark is now set to remain at the table to be involved in negotiating the next CBA.
Clark, 50, spent 15 years in the majors as a player, from 1995 to 2009. As detailed by Drellich in a lengthy profile, Clark then became a protege of Michael Weiner, the previous head of the union. Weiner had only taken over the job in 2009 but received tragic news of a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2012. When he passed away in 2013, Clark was voted to take over the position, just a few years after concluding his playing career.
At the time, MLB and the MLBPA seemed to be on relatively good terms, as there had not been a work stoppage since the 1994-1995 strike. However, the first CBA negotiated under Clark in 2016 was almost universally panned as being too skewed to the owners’ interests. Though the union did earn some modest gains on things like the minimum salary and changes to the schedule, the most significant changes saw increased penalties for teams that went over the competitive balance tax line and a hard cap on signings of international amateur free agents.
Despite the poor reception of that CBA, Clark was given an extension in November of 2018. At that time, work was already being done to prepare for the next round of negotiations. The MLBPA hired Bruce Meyer in August of 2018 with the title of senior director of collective bargaining & legal. Meyer brought years of experience to the table, having previously worked for the NHLPA and having provided outside counsel to the NBA and NFL unions.
Clark’s time since signing that extension has been quite active, to say the least. Before even getting to the next round of CBA negotiations, the league was trying to purchase licensing rights from the union. The MLBPA didn’t like the offer and instead joined with the NFLPA to form OneTeam Partners alongside RedBird Capital in 2019. OneTeam reached an exclusive deal with the trading card company Fanatics and the Wall Street Journal gave the company a $2 billion valuation last year.
Then the MLBPA had to deal with the COVID pandemic disrupting the 2020 season. Though a shortened 60-game season was eventually played, it was clear that the relationship between the league and the union was at a low ebb with just one year remaining in the CBA. Negotiations didn’t lead to a deal and MLB locked out the players on December 1 of 2021, the first work stoppage in over 25 years.
The lockout would eventually drag on for 99 days, resulting in a new CBA being agreed to on March 10 of 2022. By all accounts, Clark and the union did much better this time around. The lowest threshold of the CBT jumped $20MM, from $210MM to $230MM, the largest single-year jump in its history. It will reach $244MM by the end of the agreement. A notable jump in the minimum salary was secured, in addition to a pool of $50MM to be distributed among pre-arbitration players. Concerns over service time manipulation were addressed by creating incentives for teams who promote top prospects on Opening Day, while those who debut later can still earn a full year of service time based on awards voting. In order to achieve these goals, the players gave the league new revenue sources, including extra playoff games and advertising on uniforms.
That’s not to say that everything is sunshine and rainbows for the MLBPA. The union represents over 1,000 players who are at different stages of their careers and will naturally have different ideas about the priorities of the union. The MLBPA’s executive board voted 26-12 in favor of the new CBA, but all eight members of the executive subcommittee were in those 12 votes against. I think we accomplished a lot,” catcher Jason Castro tells Drellich. “There were things that we could have still kept fighting for, hence the ‘no’ vote for me. But at the end of the day, we were representing a large number of guys, and the priorities aren’t necessarily there. … You’re not going to get everything all at once, unless you’re just happy with sitting out and not playing. Which I mean, some guys were definitely for.” Bruce Meyer framed the situation similarly. “We said, ‘Here’s the deal. We think it’s a good deal. We think it’s the best deal we could have negotiated at this point without missing games. If we miss a bunch of games, it’s possible that we could do better, but can’t guarantee it.’ And based on that, the majority of the players approved it. But it was not in any sense a rebuke of the union.”
Beyond the work done in the CBA, the MLBPA also took the monumental step of unionizing minor league players, something that had never been done in the long history of Major League Baseball. The minor leaguers will have their own separate bargaining unit under the MLBPA umbrella and a minor league CBA will be negotiated independently of the one that applies to those in the majors. A minor league CBA is not yet in place but the negotiations have begun, which could potentially lead to progress on longstanding issues for younger players like substandard pay and housing conditions. The MLBPA has also joined the AFL-CIO, opening opportunities for players to access further benefits.
Time will tell whether the new CBA has paid off for the major league players but the early returns seem to be positive for the MLBPA. Six teams went over the luxury tax line in 2022, with the Mets going over the new fourth threshold, while prospect promotion seems to have increased. One prospect who missed the start of the season due to injury, Adley Rutschman, ended up earning a full year of service time by coming in second in Rookie of the Year voting, meaning he will reach free agency one year earlier than he would have under the previous CBA. Based on those positive signs, Clark has earned himself another extension. His salary is not public at this time but will be revealed later as the union continues to publish its financial reports. He made $2.25MM in 2021.
In other MLBPA news, Drellich also noted on Twitter that a new executive subcommittee has been voted on. Scherzer, Castro, Andrew Miller, Zack Britton, James Paxton and Gerrit Cole are out, being replaced by Jack Flaherty, Lance McCullers Jr., Ian Happ, Austin Slater, Lucas Giolito and Brent Suter, with Marcus Semien and Francisco Lindor the two holdovers.