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Baseball returns to table

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

NEW YORK -- Baseball negotiators resumed talks Monday with the speed of a Trevor Hoffman changeup, not a Randy Johnson fastball.

Three days after the union set an Aug. 30 strike date, the sides discussed minor issues, such as unresolved grievances.

''Run-of-the-mill factual disputes,'' union lawyer Michael Weiner said.

Saying the sides were far apart on plans for a luxury tax, the union set the strike date Friday to try to spur talks.

But the date for baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972 is far off enough that neither side appears to feel pressure to make major moves yet. Rob Manfred, management's top labor lawyer, agreed that the sides are in a ''cooling off'' period.

''Whenever you have an event in the process -- the setting of the strike date, the actual strike, it causes a disruption to the process,'' Manfred said. ''Everybody has internal things that they need to do -- people need to be briefed. They set a strike date Friday. At 12 o'clock Saturday, we were back in the room having productive discussions.''

He said the sides were relatively upbeat during Saturday's session, which also focused on the non-central issues. Sunday was a day off.

''We went pretty hard, really, for two complete weeks,'' he said. ''You do get to a point where people need a day to clear their heads, and that's all we took.''

The luxury tax and revenue sharing, as expected, have become the biggest obstacles to a contract. Owners say the two aren't linked, players say the two must be considered together because they both take away money from the high-revenue teams.

Owners have proposed taxing the portions of payrolls over $102 million (using 40-man rosters and including $9 million per team in benefits), and using a tax rate of 37.5 to 50 percent.

Players, not wanting to slow spending that much, have proposed thresholds of $130 million to $150 million, with a tax rate of 15 to 30 percent.

''We made the last proposal on a luxury tax. In terms of how it restarts, I'm not going to speculate on that,'' Manfred said. ''If we're going to make an agreement, everybody's going to have some wiggle room.''

Given the track record of players and owners -- eight work stoppages in eight negotiations -- and the mistrust between the sides, there probably won't be major movement on key issues until next week, when the strike deadline is just days away.

Unlike eight years ago, when the sides didn't start substantive bargaining until three months after the strike, there has been give and take this time.

''We need to move this and need to move it in a hurry,'' Manfred said.

''It's a matter of people figuring how to move it.''



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