Union likely to set strike date today at meeting

Monday, August 12, 2002

NEW YORK -- All the drama in baseball this season hasn't been confined to the field.

Some of the toughest pitches are being hurled across Manhattan conference rooms, where owners are demanding economic changes that could spark the game's ninth work stoppage since 1972.

And it could come to this: No World Series for the second time in nine years.

Players are likely to set a strike date when their executive board meets Monday, possibly leading to a walkout in late August or early September. The key stumbling block appears to be management's demand to slow escalating player salaries -- a luxury tax on teams with high payrolls.

"Eventually, it all has to be tied together," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the National League player representative. "There's caution on our side because obviously the big issues -- revenue sharing and luxury tax -- are out there. Those can set the negotiations in motion quickly in one direction or the other."

Finding a way to slow salaries has been a perennial management goal long before Bud Selig became commissioner in 1998. Players, however, would like 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.

Restoring competitive balance

Selig said it has reached the point where only the richest teams can compete. He thinks revenue-sharing -- taking from the biggest clubs and giving to the smaller ones, like his family-owned Milwaukee Brewers -- is the only way to restore competitive balance.

"The system is so, in my judgment, badly flawed, it's going to take a myriad of solutions," Selig said earlier this month.

One owner who sticks up for big-market clubs is George Steinbrenner, whose New York Yankees' payroll is $135 million. He doesn't think they should have to subsidize smaller teams.

Steinbrenner also thinks profit-sharing should be used to raise payrolls, not help teams rack up profits. But he's not certain how much his opinion counts 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, which could force high-spending clubs to trim tens of millions of dollars from payrolls.

"We don't consider players to be a luxury," union head Donald Fehr said.

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