Players, MLB Owners Reach New Labor Deal

Monday, October 23rd 2006, 8:56 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Following nearly a quarter century of labor wars, baseball players and owners will have 16 years of peace. They set aside their long history of bitter negotiations to reach a tentative agreement on a five-year contract, the first time the sides have achieved labor peace before their current deal expires.

The agreement was struck during bargaining in New York on Friday night and Saturday, and is subject to the sides putting the deal in writing, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Sunday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been finalized.

The current deal, set to expire Dec. 19, was agreed to on Aug. 30, 2002, just hours before players were set to strike. That contract was the first since 1970 achieved without a work stoppage, and this marks the first time the sides reached agreement before the expiration of the previous contract.

``Baseball is at an all-time high point right now,'' Detroit left fielder Craig Monroe said before Game 2 of the World Series. ``You've got low-market teams doing well and different teams winning every year. Getting this done couldn't have come at a better time.''

Lawyers were working on drafting language for the new deal Sunday, and hoped to put the finishing touches on it Monday or Tuesday. Once that happened, commissioner Bud Selig would announce it in St. Louis at the World Series.

``You've got a city like Detroit, you've got a city like St. Louis enjoying this, and it would be neat to get something finalized because it's good for the game,'' Chicago White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome said.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, and union head Donald Fehr declined comment.

While baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the new deal guarantees labor peace through the 2011 season.

``Everybody's pretty happy with the industry. In baseball, everybody's making out pretty well,'' Cardinals reliever Jason Isringhausen said.

Since baseball's first labor contract in 1968, there have been strikes in 1972, 1980, 1981, 1985 and 1994-95, and management lockouts in 1973, 1976 and 1990. The last strike lasted 7 1/2 months and wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years, and it took years for many teams to rebuild attendance.

Most of the key provisions of the current contract will be continued with minor modifications, such as revenue sharing and the luxury tax. With the luxury tax set to expire on Dec. 19, there was pressure on management to make a deal to ensure that the 2007 season would be played with the tax in place.

``I think we're all for certainty and not going through a winter of wondering what's going to be going on,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ``I applaud the powers with the union and the MLB. Helps us go about our business.''

Following the last work stoppage, the sides reached a landmark labor agreement in 1997 that increased revenue sharing, and their 2002 deal boosted the amount of money large-market teams give to their competitors.

Record economic success helped produce an agreement with no public rancor. Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that he estimated the sport will produce $5.2 billion in revenue this year, up from about $3.6 billion in 2001.

Major league teams drew a record 76 million fans this year.

``With the amount of fans coming out with their support,'' Detroit center fielder Curtis Granderson said, ``a strike would've been devastating.''

Granderson was 13 when players struck in 1994, and he vividly recalls the aftermath.

``Nobody really talked about baseball too much,'' he said.

Selig credited the changes in the 2002 agreement with making more teams competitive.

``I had dreams of things getting better but, no, in many ways this has exceeded my fondest expectations,'' he said last Tuesday night in St. Louis. ``This sport has more parity than ever. We have more parity than any other sport.''

An agreement had been anticipated by officials on both sides in recent days.

``This is a setting of success. It's a platform, a stage that's been built through very difficult times,'' agent Scott Boras said Sunday. ``To do anything to alter that success would be something that wouldn't be in the best interests of the game.''

The huge influx of money smoothed negotiations. The average player salary was $1.1 million in 1995, the first season after the 1994-95 strike. It rose to just under $2.3 million in 2002 and will be about $2.7 million this year. The average likely will top $3 million next year or in 2008.

``The force of the revenue streams basically put the collective bargaining process into a different framework than it's been in the past,'' Boras said.