MILWAUKEE -- Painting a gloomy picture of baseball's immediate future, commissioner Bud Selig acknowledged the possibility of another work stoppage but hoped an agreement with players could still be reached.
Speaking during an Internet chat and a news conference prior to Tuesday night's All-Star game, Selig repeated his calls for economic change in the sport that would redistribute money from the large-market clubs and the players, sending it to the small- and middle-market teams.
A day earlier, the executive board of the players' association did not set a strike deadline but asked players on each team to give the board authority to call what would be baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
Negotiations between players and owners resume Thursday.
"I'm happy they didn't set a strike date," Selig said. "There's so much pressure on both sides now. I don't really think we need any pressure. ... But we have differences, we have pragmatic differences, we have philosophical differences and we need to deal with those."
Selig has proposed increasing the percentage of locally generated revenue shared by teams from 20 percent to 50 percent, and imposing a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million. The two plans would combine to slow the growth of salaries, and the union thinks it would come close to acting as a cap.
Some baseball executives have said another work stoppage would be preferable to continuing with the current system, which has seen the average salary rise from $51,500 in 1976 to $2.38 million on opening day this year.
"The clubs have convinced themselves, and have many people, that they cannot maintain the status quo," Selig said. "It is not working. In fact, there are people who really believe that the worst of all of all the alternatives facing us, status quo is the worst of the alternatives."
Selig and many other owners are angry the New York Yankees and other high-spending teams have dominated postseason play since the 1994-94 strike, which wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. He refused to criticize the Yankees for last week's acquisitions of Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver, which boosted their payroll to close to $140 million.
"The Yankees properly say that this is the system, they are playing under that system," Selig said. "This is a manifestation of the very subject that I have been talking about."
Players, proponents of free-market economics, are resisting change. The sides know another work stoppage will further decrease attendance - which is averaging about 27,800, down 12 percent from 31,612 in 1994.
"I know that we need peace. I know that people are tired about hearing about all of the strife and all of the anger from both sides," Selig said. "On the other hand, the status quo clearly is not working. There could be no quarrel about that. And so, we have a difficult challenge ahead of us, but one that I believe can be done."
Selig repeated he will try to eliminate two teams before the 2003 season. The attempt to eliminate the Twins and Expos for 2002 was blocked during the offseason by the Minnesota courts, which forced the Twins to honor their lease at the Metrodome. Union head Donald Fehr said Monday that baseball management had told his side that other than Montreal, no other franchise is willing to be eliminated.
"I re-asked every club, either privately or publicly, is there anybody who has a different view on contraction? The vote is still 30-0. It has always been 30-0," Selig said.
The actual contraction vote was 28-2, with the Twins and Expos opposed.
"The clubs have convinced themselves that we need less clubs because of the drain on revenue sharing," Selig said. "We're in an environment where these clubs are losing a lot of money. We don't have, frankly, that option of luxury just to continue to drain money when they are losing. And so, the clubs are very critical and feel very strongly about contraction."
Selig won't consider moving teams to new cities - such as the Expos to Washington - until after a new economic system is in place. He also explained why owners have proposed random testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The union has always been opposed to random drug tests.
Earlier this year, former MVPs Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti admitted they used steroids and said many other major leagues also take them. Selig said it was "ludicrous" to think owners ignored the serious issue because "it would hurt the home-run production."
"I believe that we need to test," he said. "It's the health and welfare of this current generation of players."
On another topic, Selig repeated his wish that baseball start a World Cup, in which players compete for their nation's teams, but didn't give a timetable. He has said for a decade that a World Cup was on his agenda but hasn't taken any action.
"We obviously have a lot of scheduling problems. It's very tough, as hockey has done, to really do some of these things in season," he said.
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