Baseball Players Weigh Strike Date

Thursday, May 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Baseball's labor talks are stalled, and some players think it is inevitable the union will set a strike date for August.

``That's really the only thing we can do,'' New York Yankees player representative Mike Stanton said Wednesday. ``It's not a situation where we have a lot of options.''

Union officials told player agents at a meeting in New York on Tuesday that the staff is considering if and when to set a strike date, two agents said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Union head Donald Fehr, who told players during spring training to prepare for missing their last two or three paychecks, was to hold a similar meeting with West Coast agents in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the first day of the postseason, Oct. 1, also was being considered. It quoted an unidentified player representative as saying a date could be set far enough in advance to allow time for a settlement.

``Before everybody reacts _ or overreacts _ we've got to remember that there's been no strike date set,'' commissioner Bud Selig said Wednesday night. ``The industry's had three or four decades of all this stuff, and nobody knows better than I do how tired people are of it, so I'm hopeful that we can use the coming months to solve our problems. I'm very hopeful.''

For now, the union is trying to play down the possibility of a work stoppage, which would be baseball's ninth since 1972.

``The executive board has not yet considered whether to set a strike date,'' Fehr said. ``We hope not to have to do so.''

The consideration of a strike date, first reported Wednesday by the Times, is of little surprise. Players are unhappy that owners, in an effort to slow payroll growth, have proposed a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million. Management also angered players by asking to increase the percentage of locally generated revenue that teams must share from 20 percent to 50 percent, after a deduction for ballpark expenses.

Owners have promised that through the World Series they will not attempt to declare an impasse in talks and implement their proposals. The union fears management will do so immediately after the postseason in an effort to slow salaries for 2003.

``For them to rattle their strike-date cage is frankly disappointing, and in my view counterproductive,'' said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. ``We didn't put proposals on the table that were designed to provoke a work stoppage. There's no salary cap. There's no rebate or excise tax, like the other leagues have.''

``We put proposals on the table that were designed to allow bargaining to an agreement,'' he added. ``So it's disappointing when the other side decides to threaten a work stoppage, which is certainly not their only option.''

In the view of management, Selig already made a concession by saying owners wouldn't lock out players or implement its proposals during this season. The union views that pledge as meaning little, since 2002 salaries already had been determined when Selig made the pledge March 26.

``We bargained last time for the ability to affect 2002, and we chose not to exercise our bargaining rights, our leverage,'' DuPuy said. ``We're going to continue to lose enormous sums.''

Owners claim $232 million in operating losses last year on revenue of $3.5 billion. Players are suspicious, but they haven't challenged the figures at bargaining sessions, management lawyers say.

In 1993, the last season before the 232-day strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years, baseball revenue was $1.87 billion. The average salary has doubled from $1.17 million at the time of the strike to $2.38 million this season.

``Every year the owners cry poverty and you look at the industry and it's almost doubled financially,'' Cleveland Indians player rep Charles Nagy said.

Talks for an agreement to replace the one that expired Nov. 7 began in January, but the sides have had only sporadic meetings.

``What's frustrating is we've had this whole year and we can't sit down at the table and come up with remedies,'' Texas' Alex Rodriguez said. ``Unfortunately, a work stoppage or some sort of strike is the thing that's going to make us come together and unite and come up with remedies.''

Negotiations have been complicated by management's attempt to eliminate Minnesota and Montreal. The union filed a grievance, saying the decision to fold franchises violated the old contract, and the arbitrator hopes to rule by July 15.

The sides probably will resume talks May 28, according to Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. Fehr said it's too early to determine whether the union's executive board will meet on July 8, the day before the All-Star game.

In 1994, players met at the All-Star game but waited until July 27 to call for a strike to start after the games of Aug. 11.

``Sometimes our hands get tied, and you're forced into that wall,'' Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox said. ``Sometimes there's got to be action, but to be honest, I don't think it's time. Baseball has suffered, the whole world has suffered over the last year.''