NEW YORK - Labor peace finally and officially returned to baseball Friday, four years, three months and seven days after owners reopened the old labor agreement.
Union head Donald Fehr and management negotiator Randy Levine signed the deal Friday, bringing an end to the most destructive of baseball's eight work stoppages since 1972. A 232-day walkout wiped out the final 7« weeks of the 1994 season, the first three weeks of 1995 and the World Series for the first time in 90 years.
The deal runs through the 2000 season, and players have the option to extend it for an additional year.
"Our fans are assured there will be labor peace in baseball for at least five years," acting commissioner Bud Selig said. "The attention, focus and energy of everyone in baseball - management and players alike - swing to the rebuilding of our national pastime."
As part of the agreement, the minimum salary for the 1996 season retroactively increases to $150,000 as of last July 31. Players who were earning the old minimum of $109,000 last season and were on the roster for the final two months of 1996 must be mailed checks of $13,666.67 by next Thursday.
Players, who walked out on Aug. 12, 1994, ended their strike the following March 31 when U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction forcing owners to maintain the work rules of the expired agreement.
As part of the agreement, the union has 60 days to ask the National Labor Relations Board to request that Sotomayor dismiss the case.
"These have been the most arduous negotiations," Fehr said. "In my judgment, the agreement reached, along with the cooperation between players and clubs that we contemplate, will play a major part in the explosion of popularity the sport is about to witness."
Levine, who was in his office in New York, faxed his signature to the players' association, which is three blocks away. Levine's signature was faxed to Fehr, who was in Florida. Fehr signed the page and faxed it back to the union office, sealing the deal.
"We can concentrate on the game on the field, without the distractions of negotiations in the conference room," Levine said. "Today begins a new era of real partnership between the clubs and players."
Owners approved the contract Nov. 26 and the union's executive board followed suit Dec. 5. Lawyers then took weeks to draft the actual agreement.
As part of the deal, owners were given the right to start revenue sharing and to experiment with interleague play in 1997 and 1998. A luxury tax on payrolls in 1997, 1998, 1999 will slow the difference in spending between large- and small-market teams.
Fans responded with anger following the strike, cutting the average attendance 20 percent, from 31,612 per game in 1994 to 25,260 in 1995. It rebounded 6.4 percent last season to 26,889.
Players lost about $350 million in salaries and bonuses because of the strike, and owners lost more than twice as much.