NEW YORK -- As baseball players and management finally got around to talking about revenue sharing Friday, baseball commissioner Bud Selig reversed course again and told owners to stop talking about labor matters in public.
Negotiators, joined by eight players from the Boston Red Sox, had what both sides called a productive session, and agreed that they were not that far apart on the amount of money they want to divide unequally among clubs from baseball's national broadcasting and licensing contracts.
They did not discuss locally generated revenue or management's desire for a luxury tax on high-payroll teams, two bigger points of contention in the talks for a labor deal to replace the contract that expired Nov. 7.
Meanwhile, team owners received a new memorandum from Selig, who earlier this summer had lifted his so-called "gag order." In the past few weeks, many owners have spoken out in support of Selig's attempt to gain economic concessions from players, who are threatening the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972 because they fear owners will change work rules after the season or lock them out.
"I appreciate all the helpful and supportive comments that have been made by owners and club officials in recent weeks," Selig said in the memo, which was read to The Associated Press. "The comments were indicative of the complete unity of the clubs on the labor front.
"Notwithstanding this fact, I have decided to reinstitute the ban on public comments on labor and economic issues in its original format. We are entering a critical period of the labor negotiations and I feel that further comment at this point would not be productive."
Even before he told owners to speak out - providing them with talking points - Selig's gag-order did not seem to be enforced, with many owners talking publicly from time to time in support of the commissioner and his objectives. But after Selig told owners they could speak, Cleveland's Larry Dolan and the New York Yankees' George Steinbrenner took public snipes at each other.
"For a host of reasons, he allowed some people to talk," said Rob Manfred, the owners' top labor lawyer. "The key in terms of going back to having a gag in place is that we're at a sensitive point in time."
Players on teams are taking votes giving the union's executive board the authority to set a strike date, and dates from mid-August are being discussed. Union head Donald Fehr skipped this week's negotiating sessions and probably will miss next week's to meet with players on individual teams. Three days of talks are scheduled starting next Wednesday.
In Friday's session, the sides talked about management's proposal to give the commissioner an $85 million discretionary fund - money he would distribute unequally from the central fund, which receives the proceeds from the national contracts.
Because the money is to be taken equally from every team - $2.83 million each - at most $45 million could be transferred to the 14 teams with the least revenue. The union has proposed moving $40 million unequally from the central fund to the low-revenue teams.
Manfred said management agreed with the union's analysis of those figures.
"I think the discussion will allow the next set of proposals to be more responsive to the other party's concerns," union lawyer Michael Weiner said. "We've put to one side whose turn it is to make the next proposal here. The underlying principle is we think focusing on the amount of money to be moved is the most productive place to start. We realize we have to agree to a mechanism or series of mechanisms."
Also Friday, former President Jimmy Carter volunteered to mediate talks.
Carter, an avid fan who often attends Atlanta Braves games, made a similar offer in the midst of the 7 1/2 -month strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years.
Owners and players ignored the offer, instead continuing to use former Labor Secretary W.J. Usery to mediate those talks, which failed to lead to an agreement. That strike didn't end until a federal judge issued an injunction restoring the work rules from the previous deal, finding that owners had committed unfair labor practices.
"If all of those options run out and baseball is endangered again, I would be glad personally to volunteer my services," Carter said. "But that's going to come way down the line, and I hope it's not necessary."
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