ROSEMONT, Ill. – The executive board of the baseball players' union failed to set a strike date Monday but will ask major leaguers for the authority to call the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
Members of the union's executive board, meeting on the day before the All-Star game, left a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport saying they will go back to their teammates. Philadelphia outfielder Brian Glanville said that because of the uncertain position, it was wise to "prepare for the worst."
After the expiration of the previous labor deal Nov. 7, owners proposed economic changes that would slow salary growth. Players are worried that as negotiations drag on into the fall, owners may try to unilaterally change work rules or lock out players, freezing offseason signings and trades.
"From the players' standpoint, a strike is a last resort," union head Donald Fehr said. "It would not be entered into unless the players feel they had no other viable option, and it is our hope over the next few weeks we will be able to have the kinds of serious and substantive discussions with major league owners we have heretofore been unable to have, and will resolve these issues."
During a five-hour session, Fehr briefed players on the slow-moving talks, which are scheduled to resume Thursday in New York.
Owners have proposed to increase the percentage of local revenue each team would share, from 20 percent to 50 percent, and a 50 percent tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million, which combined would slow the increase in salaries. They have skyrocketed from an average of $51,500 in 1976 to $2.38 million on opening day this year.
Owners say only the large-market teams can win, and that more revenue sharing and a drag on salaries is needed to restore competitive balance.
"Guys have paid the price for you," Cleveland pitcher Paul Shuey said. "If it comes to that, you pay the price for the future."
Fehr and players said setting a strike date was never on Monday's agenda.
"That was never the purpose of the meeting nor was it the result of the meeting," he said. "We did, of course, discuss all options for the future but no action in that regard was taken."
Fehr has met with seven of the 30 teams and will continue his discussions. Player representatives will confer with teammates.
"There will be discussions at the individual club level over the next couple of weeks," Fehr said.
That is similar to what happened eight years ago, when the union's executive board met in Pittsburgh on the day before the All-Star game. The executive board then held a conference call 17 days later and set a strike for Aug. 12. The strike lasted until the following April and wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1904.
Players also discussed the owners' proposal to test for steroid use and said they would try to get a sense from their teammates on what the union's position should be. Fehr didn't give any specifics.
"It's a serious issue. It will be handled seriously and it will be handled in bargaining," he said.
Fehr thinks the sides could agree to a worldwide draft that covers all amateur players, an expansion of the current draft, which applies primarily to those in the United States and Canada.
He detailed the difference the sides have on revenue sharing, saying that using 2001 figures the clubs would like to increase the total from $167 million to $300 million and that the union would like it to be at about $230 million.
He also detailed the union's distaste for a luxury tax, which even teams readily admit would cause teams not to sign players they would without the limitation.
"A luxury tax is a significant penalty, because somebody hired someone," he said. "If you think about it that way, that's a pretty strange thing to do in the United States of America."
Fehr scoffed by management's claim that the union has not responded to the owners' proposals.
"We have bargaining," he said, "and they do public relations."