Originally created 08/13/02

Baseball players fail to set strike date



CHICAGO -- Baseball players backed off setting a strike date Monday, saying they were hopeful recent progress in bargaining talks could lead to a new agreement by the end of the week.

"We feel like there's a window of opportunity to get something done in the next several days and we're willing to explore that," Atlanta's Tom Glavine said following a 3 1/2 -hour meeting of the union's executive board.

Glavine, a senior member of the board, said players were prepared to give the negotiating process "every chance to succeed."

"You establish a date when you believe it is essential to reach an agreement, bearing in mind that a strike is the last thing the players want. And we are not at that point yet," union head Donald Fehr said.

Fehr later called commissioner Bud Selig and "discussed the progress of bargaining and what the current situation was."

Negotiators planned to resume talks Tuesday in New York. Last week, the sides agreed on a $100,000 raise in the minimum salary to $300,000 and agreed to mandatory testing for steroids.

But the sides still are apart on the key issues of increased sharing of local revenue among the 30 teams and management's desire for a luxury tax on high-payroll clubs.

At ballparks, players were relieved that a decision had been put off.

"Everybody is a winner if we can get through thing without setting a strike date," Colorado's Larry Walker said.

At Crawford, Texas, White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan said a strike "would be a terrible thing to have happen." President Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, has "not been involved in any way."

"But it is clear," McClellan said, "that a strike would be unfortunate and terrible for baseball fans across America, and the president is an avid baseball fan."

The luxury tax appears to be the most difficult issue. While there was a luxury tax in place in 1997, 1998 and 1999, owners viewed it as largely ineffective. The key to finding a deal is likely to be finding a tax level that can satisfy management's desire to restrain salaries while not slowing them so much that players would strike over the issue.

Finding a way to slow salaries has been a perennial management goal, but players would like to keep things the way they are. Since 1976, the last season before free agency, the average salary has jumped from $51,500 to $2.38 million, a 46-fold increase.

Selig said it has reached the point where only the richest teams can compete. He thinks revenue-sharing - taking from the biggest clubs and giving to the smaller ones, like his family-owned Milwaukee Brewers - is the only way to restore competitive balance.

"The system is so, in my judgment, badly flawed, it's going to take a myriad of solutions," Selig said earlier this month.

One owner who sticks up for big-market clubs is George Steinbrenner, whose New York Yankees' payroll is $135 million. He doesn't think they should have to subsidize smaller teams.

But Steinbrenner isn't sure how much his opinion counts these days.

"Bud Selig and I have been friends for a long time. I'm not sure how much he relies on me anymore," Steinbrenner said in an interview published Sunday in The New York Times. "I don't know. He kind of has his allies, and most of them are small-market guys."

While neither side commented after a three-hour bargaining session Sunday, there seemed to be some progress in negotiations the past week. Players ended their decades-old opposition to mandatory drug testing and agreed to be tested for illegal steroids starting next year.

Players also are amenable to increasing the amount of local revenue teams share. But they oppose the luxury tax.

"We don't consider players to be a luxury," union head Donald Fehr said.

Unlike the failed negotiations of 1994-95, which eliminated the World Series for the first time since 1904, both sides have had dozens of bargaining sessions in recent weeks and have narrowed their differences. In 1994, when owners were demanding a fixed ceiling on salaries, known as a cap, the first substantive talks didn't take place until three months after the walkout.

The last strike wiped out the final 52 days and 669 games of the regular season and forced cancellation of the first 23 days and 252 games of the following season. It ended only after a federal judge issued an injunction restoring the terms of the former labor contract, ruling owners had illegally changed work rules.