Baseball Players Don't Set Strike Date
CHICAGO – The Major League Baseball players' executive board did not set a strike date Monday, saying that the progress in talks made them hopeful a labor agreement could be reached by the end of the week.
Atlanta's Tom Glavine, a senior member of the union's executive board, said players are prepared to give the negotiating process "every chance to succeed."
"We feel like there's a window of opportunity to get something done in the next several days and we're willing to explore that," he said after the board’s 3-hour meeting.
By refraining from setting a date, baseball players avoided setting the stage for the national pastime's ninth work-stoppage since 1972.
"Everybody is a winner if we can get through this thing without setting a strike date," said Larry Walker, a player for the Colorado Rockies.
Union chief Donald Fehr said: "You establish a date when you believe it is essential to reach an agreement, bearing in mind that a strike is the last thing the players want. And we are not at that point yet."
Fehr and commissioner Bud Selig spoke by telephone.
"We discussed the progress of bargaining and what the current situation was," Fehr said.
Rob Manfred, top labor lawyer for owners of baseball teams, said the decision was "a positive step."
"We look forward to getting back to the bargaining table, and hope we can reach a negotiated agreement without any need for the interruption of the season," he said. "Both parties feel pressure to reach an agreement because of the enormity of the harm that would be caused by a strike."
As soon as the board scheduled a meeting, many thought the announcement of a strike date was imminent. Expectations weren't improved by the fact that baseball ground to halt on this exact date eight years ago, thanks to labor issues that eventually cost fans 921 games and a World Series. The 1994 strike lasted 232 days and was the longest stoppage in the history of major American sports.
Negotiators are planning to begin talks again Tuesday in New York. Last week, the sides agreed to mandatory testing for steroids and a $100,000 raise in the minimum salary to $300,000.
But the sides are still divided on the key issues of increased revenue-sharing and management's call for a luxury tax on clubs with high payrolls.
The luxury tax appears to be the most difficult issue. While there was a luxury tax in 1997, 1998 and 1999, owners viewed it as largely ineffective. The key to reaching an agreement is likely settling on a tax level that can satisfy management's desire to reel in salaries while not containing them so much to precipitate another strike.
Finding a way to slow salaries has been a perennial management goal, but players would like to keep things the way they are. Since 1976, the last season before free agency, the average salary has jumped from $51,500 to $2.38 million, a 46-fold increase.
Selig said it has reached the point where only the wealthiest of baseball's 30 teams have a chance at winning consistently. He thinks the best way to increase competitive balance is through revenue-sharing -- taking from the biggest clubs and giving to the smaller ones, like his family-owned Milwaukee Brewers.
"The system is so, in my judgment, badly flawed, it's going to take a myriad of solutions," Selig said earlier this month.
George Steinbrenner, whose New York Yankees' payroll is $135 million, sticks up for big-market clubs. He doesn't think they should have to subsidize smaller teams.
But Steinbrenner isn't sure how much influence he has these days.
"Bud Selig and I have been friends for a long time. I'm not sure how much he relies on me anymore," Steinbrenner said in an interview published Sunday in The New York Times. "I don't know. He kind of has his allies, and most of them are small-market guys."
While neither side commented after a three-hour bargaining session Sunday, there seemed to be some progress in negotiations the past week. Players ended their decades-old opposition to mandatory drug testing and agreed to be tested for illegal steroids starting next year.
Players also are amenable to increasing the amount of local revenue teams share. But they oppose the luxury tax.
"We don't consider players to be a luxury," union head Donald Fehr said.
Unlike the failed negotiations of 1994-95, which eliminated the World Series for the first time since 1904, both sides have had dozens of bargaining sessions in recent weeks and have narrowed their differences. In 1994, when owners were demanding a fixed ceiling on salaries, known as a cap, the first substantive talks didn't take place until three months after the walkout.
The last strike wiped out the final 52 days and 669 games of the regular season and caused cancellation of the first 23 days and 252 games of the next season. It ended only after a federal judge issued an injunction restoring the terms of the former labor contract, ruling owners had illegally changed work rules.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.