NEW YORK -- Assuring baseball will have labor peace through next season, the players' association on Monday exercised its option to extend the sport's collective bargaining agreement through Oct. 31, 2001.
The union's move had long been expected, since players generally are happy with the deal, which went into effect in November 1996 and was reached only after a 232-day strike wiped out the 1994 World Series, the first cancellation of baseball's championship in 90 years.
Players had until Thursday to exercise the one-year option, a provision contained in the current labor contract, which originally covered 1996-2000.
By exercising the option, the union ensured baseball will have six straight years of no canceled games -- regular season or spring training -- for the first time since 1966-71.
''I am grateful and pleased with the players' association's decision,'' commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. ''Nobody understood the heartache and difficulty associated with the strike more than I did. Our relationship with the association is better than it has ever been, and I am hopeful that we can find a peaceful way to solve baseball's problems.''
Many owners, however, have complained the agreement has widened the disparity between the high- and low-revenue markets, with the average salary rising from $1,119,981 at the end of the 1996 season to $1,988,034 on opening day this year.
''Certainly, it's a wonderful deal for the players and they would enjoy it continuing it for many, many years,'' Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten said. ''If it's not good for the industry, it creates problems for everyone, and clearly this deal creates problems for the industry. I think we have an industry with persistent and ever-escalating economic problems.''
The next step is the start of bargaining for a new agreement. Baseball has had eight work stoppages since the 1972 season, and negotiations have always been volatile, leading either to a stoppage or a postponement of the deadline.
''We're prepared to start whenever they're prepared to begin,'' union head Donald Fehr said. ''It doesn't make any sense to start unless everybody is ready.''
From time to time, there were talks about the possibility of an extension beyond 2001, but they didn't lead to anything and broke off before the start of the 2000 season.
Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations, agreed with Fehr's call for an early beginning of talks.
''The one thing both the parties have learned is it's probably better to start earlier than to start later,'' he said.
Still, owners aren't prepared to begin now.
''We haven't gotten to the point of a firm timetable,'' Manfred said.
The luxury tax, designed to slow down the rate of payroll increase for the high-revenue markets, was a central part of the deal -- it began in 1997 and expired after the 1999 season. There was no luxury tax this year and there will not be one in 2001.
Owners have said the luxury tax in the current deal was ineffectual and meant only the high-spending teams would get into the playoffs.
The luxury tax was imposed at a rate of 34 or 35 percent, depending on the year, on the top five teams by payroll, but only on the amount that exceeded the midpoint of the fifth- and sixth-highest spenders.
A total of $30.6 million in tax was collected, with Baltimore paying $10.6 million over three years, the New York Yankees paying $9.9 million and no other team paying more than $2.8 million.
Without the tax, the Yankees' payroll has increased from $92 million last year to $112 million this season.
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