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Owners slam players' new proposals

Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2002

NEW YORK -- Owners immediately slammed baseball players Saturday for making what management called backward proposals on the key issues of revenue sharing and a luxury tax.

Just six days before the union's Aug. 30 strike deadline, the sides appeared to be on a collision course for baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972.

''We could not have been more disappointed in the proposal we received,'' said Rob Manfred, the owners' chief labor lawyer. ''This is raw regressive bargaining.''

Players said their proposals were a positive step and moved closer toward the clubs, and didn't understand why management publicly attacked them.

''Whoever the bar owner was in 'Casablanca' was shocked to find gambling, too,'' union head Donald Fehr said.

On a night of dueling conference calls with reporters, Manfred accused players of backtracking on increased revenue sharing, because the union's proposal Saturday phased in the increases. Owners want the entire amount of the increase to start next year, which players think would cripple the richest teams.

''There was never, ever, ever a phase-in proposal discussed until'' Saturday, Manfred said.

While owners want $268 million transferred next year from the wealthiest teams to the poorest ones, up from about $169 million under the current formula, the union proposed transfers of $172.3 million in 2003, $195.6 million in 2004, $219 million in 2005 and $242.3 million in 2006.

In 2006, the final year of the proposed deal, the sides are relatively close. Owners have proposed transferring $268 million. All figures use 2001 revenue figures for analysis.

Under the union's plan, teams would share 33.3 percent of their local revenue, up from 20 percent under the current deal. Fehr said players had previously been at 31 percent and owners at 37 percent, and that the union shifted to management's preferred method of redistributing the money, which favors middle-markets teams.

Fehr said the sides had discussed phase-ins for at least the past 1 1/2 years. The union thinks that's important because the very richest teams, such as the New York Yankees, would have to pay more next year, even though the overall transfer amount wouldn't change.

''The parties have discussed for a long time that when agreements are eventually reached, changes will have to be phased in over time,'' Fehr said. ''They clearly understand this would be phased in. Therefore, I am at a loss to explain what this is all about.''

Manfred discounted last year's discussions, saying the union had not brought up the topic again until Aug. 4.

''What went on then is ancient history by the times these talks got going,'' Manfred said.

Fehr said making the full increase next year would cause problems for the largest teams, who would bare the brunt of the increased revenue sharing payments.

''He should stop worrying about my clients,'' Manfred said.

The union also moved $5 million toward the owners on the luxury tax, designed to slow spending by high-payroll teams, but Manfred said that was far short of what owners want because it would affect only two teams next year, based on this season's salaries.

''If they had made any sort of move that was in our direction we would have made a countermove already. The thing we're dealing with is how to respond to a move that went the wrong way,'' Manfred said.

He called the proposal ''so out of the realm of expectation that it's going to take us a little time.''

While owners want to tax the portions of 40-man payrolls over $102 million (including $9 million in benefits), players proposed thresholds of $125 million in 2003, $135 million in 2004 and $145 million in 2005 -- all $5 million less than the union's previous offer.

Players have proposed tax rates of 15-40 percent, while the owners have proposed 37.5 to 50 percent. Owners also are angry players refuse to agree to a tax in 2006, the final year of the agreement.

Manfred chided Fehr for giving a ''20-minute monologue'' before the proposal on ''Don's view of the world.''

''It was a recitation of his view of how the negotiations had gone,'' Manfred said.

On Friday, when asked what was needed to spark talks on the key issues, Fehr said: ''Rob knows what he has to do.''

''My answer to that is apparently Don doesn't know what he needs to do,'' Manfred said.

Players said they thought their plan would move talks forward.

''We never expected them to accept it, but at least it's a move, and it's a significant move,'' Arizona's Mark Grace said.

Players and owners also are apart on drug testing, with owners saying the union's proposal doesn't go far enough. The union is willing to have mandatory random testing for illegal steroids and wants 2003 to be a survey. Players proposed that if more than 5 percent test positive, a second survey be taken in 2004. If more than 5 percent test positive that year, mandatory random testing would start the following year.

''Sort of by definition, if we make the proposal, it can't be adequate, and that's too bad,'' Fehr said.

At Yankee Stadium, Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez backtracked from his comments Friday that he would give back 30 to 40 percent of his pay if it would improve the sport.

''I'm willing to do my part. Thirty to 40 percent? Probably not. I was speaking off the cuff,'' said Rodriguez, who signed a record $252 million, 10-year deal in December 200.

''What I wanted to say is I love the game of baseball and would do anything to help it. Obviously, that was a very drastic statement. I wouldn't take it literally.''



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