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IRVING, Texas – Baseball players are officially locked out.

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Talks between Major League Baseball and the players union ended without a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday. When the 11:59 p.m. EST deadline passed without a resolution, it signaled the beginning of the first work stoppage in MLB in 26 years.

This is the ninth lockout since 1972 and the first since the 1994-95 strike, which caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

“Despite the league’s best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labor peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Therefore, we have been forced to commence a lockout of Major League players, effective at 12:01 a.m EST on Dec. 2.

“Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” Manfred added. “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions.”

Talks between the owners of the 30 MLB teams and the Major League Baseball Players Association ended after just seven minutes of negotiations Wednesday afternoon, according to ESPN.

The collective bargaining agreement, which has been in effect the last five years, governs all aspects of the game at the major league level, including the length of the season, roster sizes, policies about domestic violence and the game’s economic structure, The New York Times reported.

During a lockout, free agency and trades of major league players are prohibited, ESPN reported. As the clock ticked toward Wednesday night’s deadline, free-agent deals moved forward at a brisk pace, with teams guaranteeing more than $1.6 billion to players so far this offseason.

“This shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing,” the MLBPA said in a statement. “It is not required by law or for any other reason. It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just players, but the game and industry as a whole.

The MLBPA demanded change following anger over a declining average salary, middle-class players forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy and veterans released in favor of lower-paid younger players, according to The Associated Press.

“As players we see major problems with it,” New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said about the 2016 CBA agreement earlier Wednesday. “First and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that, and adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring out the competition.”’

Both sides will have about 70 days to reach an agreement. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for spring training on Feb. 16, and Opening Day is scheduled for March 31.

“To be clear: this hard but important step does not necessarily mean games will be canceled,” Manfred said in his statement. “In fact, we are taking this step now because it accelerates the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season.”

A strike is the most powerful tool available to the union in a labor dispute, but a lockout is management’s strongest weapon.

“In a lockout, an employer says, “‘I’m not going to let you work until you agree to my deal,’” Lauren Rich, an attorney who worked both for the MLBPA and the NLRB, told The Athletic. “And the strike counterpart, is ‘I’m not going to offer you my services until you agree to my deal.’ It’s supposed to impose economic pressure on the other side.”

Manfred called the decision to implement a lockout a “difficult day for baseball,” but was optimistic a deal can be reached without affecting the 2022 season.

“There is a path to a fair agreement, and we will find it. I do not doubt the League and the Players share a fundamental appreciation for this game and a commitment to its fans,” Manfred said in his statement. “I remain optimistic that both sides will seize the opportunity to work together to grow, protect, and strengthen the game we love. MLB is ready to work around the clock to meet that goal. I urge the Players Association to join us at the table.”

“We are determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated collective bargaining agreement that will be fair to all parties, and provides fans with the best version of the game we all love,” the MLPBA said in its statement.