Testimony in players' grievance over contraction plan recessed until Monday

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

IRVING, Texas -- After two days of testimony, the grievance by baseball players to block owners from eliminating two teams recessed Wednesday with the first witness still on the stand.

Gene Orza, the associate general counsel and No. 2 official of the players' association, completed his direct testimony. Lawyers for owners will cross-examine him when the hearing before arbitrator Shyam Das resumes Monday in New York.

Orza refused to comment publicly on his testimony. The first two days of the hearing took place at the same hotel where the union's executive board is holding its annual meeting.

Donald Fehr, the head of the players' union, said Wednesday night after players exited their day-long meeting that there will be big problems if the fight over contraction drags on.

Fehr said contraction has to be settled before other issues, such as revenue sharing, player contracts and scheduling can be properly addressed. He also predicted problems with free agency.

''It will be carnage all over,'' Fehr said.

While players tried to discuss issues such as a new labor agreement, interleague play, licensing and pension plans, management's plan to eliminate two teams before next season is the pressing issue.

Montreal and Minnesota are the leading candidates, but an injunction forces the Twins to play next season. The appeal by baseball to lift the injunction will be heard on Dec. 27.

''Things are a little tenuous right now. We are trying to find out the direction contraction talks are going to take,'' pitcher David Cone said. ''You can talk about everything, but certainly contraction is front and center right now.''.

The union claims the contraction vote violated the terms of its labor contract, which expired Nov. 7 but remains in effect.

''Basically, what it comes down to is we feel they're obligated to negotiate with us over contraction, and they don't feel they are,'' said Texas pitcher Rick Helling, the AL player representative.

Baseball lawyers contend that owners can eliminate teams without union approval, and are only required to negotiate other details such as the dispersal of players.

In their grievance, players say contraction should be part of negotiations for a new labor deal.

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