Das postpones contraction decision for second time

Friday, August 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Baseball's arbitrator postponed for a second time his decision on whether owners can fold teams without the agreement of players.

Shyam Das originally had hoped to rule by July 15, then asked for a delay until Aug. 1. He telephoned the sides Thursday and asked for extra time but did not set a new timetable, management spokesman Pat Courtney and union spokesman Greg Bouris said.

A day after owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams _ later identified by management lawyers as Montreal and Minnesota _ the union filed a grievance, saying the decision violated their contract.

Owners contend they can shut down teams and need to bargain with players only on the effects of contraction, such as a dispersal draft.

Contraction for 2002 was blocked when Minnesota courts ruled the Twins must honor their lease for this year, but commissioner Bud Selig intends to eliminate two teams by next season.

Montreal, which is owned by the other 29 teams, is the only team currently willing to be folded. A settlement of the Minnesota lawsuit ensured the Twins will exist through the 2003 season.

After meeting for three straight days, negotiators for players and owners worked separately Thursday and spoke by telephone. They planned to resume talks Friday.

In Chicago, union head Donald Fehr spoke with the Cubs, leaving Boston as the only team he hasn't met with in recent weeks. The union's executive board could set a strike date as soon as next week.

``Collective bargaining ordinarily is a series of small steps, hopefully more are forward, some are sideways, some are backward,'' Fehr said.

``You go back and forth, you try some approaches, they don't work. You try other approaches, and then, eventually, you hope you find a combination of things that work. And very often, you can't figure out when the breakthrough came until you have 20-20 hindsight and it's over.''

Players remain optimistic baseball will avoid what would be its ninth work stoppage since 1972. While the sides disagree on key issues such as revenue sharing and a luxury tax, negotiations have intensified in recent weeks. Before the 1994-95 strike, the sides held few bargaining sessions.

``I think we will get it done before the end of the season,'' Cubs catcher Joe Girardi said. ``I think the sides are fairly close.''