Hours run down for baseball to avoid strike

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2002

NEW YORK -- Baseball negotiators traded proposals and crunched numbers into early Friday morning, inching toward a possible labor deal while the nation awaited word on whether players would strike later in the day.

Lawyers for both sides shuttled between the commissioner's office and union headquarters in the rain throughout the day. Progress was coming slowly, according to people who spoke to negotiators.

''We're just going to keep working,'' said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. ''I've been prepared to stay for the night all week.

''Of course there is an increase in sense of urgency. No one wants to lose a single game or a single day of games.''

There was no set time for the start of a strike, which would be the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972. The first game affected would be St. Louis at Chicago, scheduled to begin at 3:20 p.m. EDT. Fourteen games are scheduled at night, but the union told players not to report if an agreement isn't reached.

''We're not going to send players to that stadium to take batting practice and open up the gates and all that stuff,'' Tampa Bay player representative John Flaherty said. ''We wouldn't want to put anyone in that situation.''

Negotiators were talking when the Angels completed a 6-1 victory over Tampa Bay in Anaheim at 12:44 a.m. EDT, perhaps the final game of an abbreviated season. After fans sang ''Take Me Out to the Ball Game'' during the seventh-inning stretch, they chanted ''Don't Strike, Don't Strike.''

During the game, fans tossed about a half-dozen foul balls hit into stands back onto the field. After Aubrey Huff's game-ending groundout, some of the 18,820 fans threw debris on the field.

''You'd expect the fans to have a little more class,'' Angels player representative Scott Schoeneweis said. ''I know they're disappointed, but let us play. Let's get the game done.''

After five bargaining sessions Wednesday and three on Thursday, the sides remained apart on the key issues: levels for a luxury tax and revenue sharing. Other unresolved issues were the owners' desire to fold two teams and the expiration date of any new settlement.

Management and player sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sides were slowly moving toward an agreement, but they did not know if Friday's schedule could be saved.

Both sides met early in the evening to work on the drug-testing agreement reached this week. The main talks resumed just before 9:30 p.m., when union head Donald Fehr and his top aides went to the commissioner's office along with Atlanta's Tom Glavine and B.J. Surhoff.

Fehr and the players met with commissioner Bud Selig for about 10 minutes before the larger session, then returned to the union office for the executive board's second conference call of the day.

A pair of union lawyers remained at the commissioner's office as midnight passed. The players set Friday as the strike deadline two weeks ago.

''It will be a late night, pizza, soda-adrenaline night,'' Texas Rangers player representative Jeff Zimmerman said. ''Negotiations are really sensitive now. It's hard to express optimism or pessimism.''

The walkout threatens the final 31 days and 438 games of the regular season, and imperils the World Series -- canceled by a strike in 1994 for the first time in 90 years. If a strike drags into mid-September, the postseason would be in jeopardy.

''There's still a couple hours left,'' San Diego Padres player representative Kevin Jarvis said late Thursday night after his team arrived back home from Houston. ''We're still hopeful there will be baseball tomorrow.''

Many fans vented their frustration with signs at Thursday's 10 games.

In the upper deck at Cincinnati, one banner said, ''There's No Crying In Baseball.''

''Both sides are being awfully greedy, considering what is happening economically in this country,'' said Mary Anne Curran, a fan at the Pirates-Braves game in Pittsburgh. ''I find it disgusting they can't find a happy medium when they're talking about millions of dollars.''

Glavine, the NL player representative, arrived at the union's office several hours after the game.

''There's going to be a lot of posturing. Nobody is going to show their best hand until they have to,'' he said.

Each side sent two lawyers to the main bargaining sessions. Owners were represented by DuPuy and Rob Manfred, and players sent Michael Weiner, the union's No. 3 official, and Steve Fehr, brother of Donald.

President Bush, former owner of the Rangers, said the White House wouldn't get involved.

''The owners and players need to keep in mind not only what a strike would do to the future of baseball, but also what it would to America during a time of national unity and national spirit,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after talking with Bush.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, asked the panel's chairman to schedule hearings on revoking baseball's antitrust exemption if players strike.

''If baseball is determined to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, Congress should send a clear message to the owners and players for a plague on both your houses,'' Specter said in the letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy.

At the ballpark Bush helped build in Arlington, Texas, the Rangers' clubhouse was filled with boxes for players' belongings.

''It doesn't sound real good from what I've heard in the last few hours,'' said Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who would lose the most of any player, $114,754 a day. ''You just have to prepare yourself for the very worst.''

One hardline owner hoped an agreement would reform baseball's economics. ''We want a deal that will return competitive balance and stop fiscal insanity,'' San Diego's John Moores said in Houston.

The old contract expired after the World Series last November, and talks for a new deal began in January. Players, fearful owners would lock them out after the postseason, decided to force a confrontation late in the season, when more revenue is at stake.

The key argument is over the levels of increased revenue sharing and the luxury tax. Selig, upset in recent years by the domination of the New York Yankees and other wealthy teams, wants to increase the amount of locally generated revenue teams share from 20 percent to 36 percent. Players have proposed 33.3 percent and want to phase in the increase.

To slow salaries, owners have asked for a luxury tax that would penalize high-spending teams. The sides got closer Thursday, with owners increasing the proposed threshold for the tax in 2003 to $115 million, the player and management sources said. The union lowered its threshold to $118 million, they said.

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