If a baseball fan went to MLB.com at 11:58 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday night, things would look about the same as usual. The home page would have its breaking free agency news, and the individual team pages would have the latest offseason updates and 2022 season previews, with pictures abound of that team's players.
If they went to the site a few minutes later — once the MLB locked out its players amid negotiations with the union on a new collective bargaining agreement — it would look very different.
No news about the 2021 offseason. No previews of the upcoming season. No photos of any active players.
Instead, the site and its team sub-pages have two types of content: league-issued updates about the lockout — including a letter from commissioner Rob Manfred — and evergreen, historical content featuring players who haven't worn a jersey in quite some time.
All likenesses of active players have been scrubbed from the site, replaced either by generic baseball photos — think "bats in a rack" or "balls on a field" with no signs of life to be found, like the photo at the top of this story — or, in the case of player profiles, generic silhouettes.
(If you go to the Yankees' or Mets' team pages, for instance, you'll see their rosters as they stood once the lockout started, but all of the player headshots are gone. Coaches, however, still have their photos, since they're not part of the players' union.)
There's a legal reason for all of this. In a press conference on Thursday, Manfred explained that the decision to remove all likenesses of active players was to comply with labor law. In short, no CBA means MLB isn't allowed to use the players' likenesses in any way.
By then, though, the locked-out players had turned the silhouettes into a rallying cry. Several players changed their Twitter profile pictures to the very same image. Mets pitcher Trevor Williams, one of the first to change his profile picture, told ESPN.com that initially it was "a meme" among friends in a group chat, and that meme eventually caught on with more and more players the morning after the lockout.
The scrub didn't just end with the league's website, however. Player likenesses have been removed from stadium signage as well — one Philadelphia media member noted on Twitter that a big sign of Bryce Harper, which had been put up less than two weeks earlier — had come down ahead of the lockout.
Teams also have had to come up with unique ways of getting around active player likenesses in their 2022 giveaways.
Take the St. Louis Cardinals. Their 2022 schedule page has several planned giveaways featuring a "Pitcher and Catcher" (or in some cases a "Cardinals Battery"). Those, of course, are thinly veiled references to Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, who have played 305 games together in St. Louis dating back to 2005. There also are several giveaways featuring a player they've dubbed "Cardinals Third Baseman" — a not-so-subtle reference to star third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Interestingly, the one place that still has references to active players is the MLB's official shop, where jerseys and shirts remain safe from MLB's content scrub. That's because the shop itself is run by Fanatics, which has separate licensing deals with MLB and the players' union.