Fehr lashes out at owners' proposal

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

NEW YORK -- Union head Donald Fehr made his most pointed criticism of the baseball owners' economic proposals, calling them "a wholesale attack on the salary structure."

In memos sent to players and agents, Fehr said management's revenue sharing and luxury tax plans would result in crippling losses for baseball's biggest spenders. The New York Yankees, who gave up $28 million of their $242 million revenue to other teams last year, would have to surrender $86.9 million, Fehr said.

Meanwhile, 10 days before the strike deadline players set last week, negotiators met twice and discussed the core economic issues, focusing on the luxury tax and revenue sharing. The sides did not provide details but planned to meet again today.

San Diego owner John Moores told The New York Times he would prefer a yearlong work stoppage to a bad deal and predicted as many as 10 other owners would support his position if players go on strike Aug. 30.

"I think he's accurate on people who feel strongly that significant change needs to occur," Astros owner Drayton McLane told The Associated Press.

Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris said hard-liners had become more vehement in lobbying for their position.

"The hawks are circling," he said.

Nonetheless, the union strenuously opposes what owners have on the table.

In memos sent to players on Saturday and to agents on Monday, Fehr disclosed the amounts that would be transferred from baseball's wealthiest clubs to the others under management's revenue sharing and luxury tax proposals.

The New York Mets would give up the second most at $35.8 million, followed by the Boston Red Sox ($34.2 million) and the Seattle Mariners ($32.3 million), according to his memos, which analyzed proposals using revenue and payroll figures from the 2001 season. Most of the money would be redistributed to low-revenue teams.

"The players have addressed what the clubs have said are their concerns in bargaining, but not what their revenue sharing and tax proposals reveal is their objective: a wholesale attack on the salary structure," Fehr said in the memo, first revealed Tuesday by Newsday and later obtained by the AP.

Rob Manfred, management's top labor lawyer, called it a "baffling characterization."

"Our purpose, in terms of the revenue sharing and the tax, is to take money, redistribute it among the clubs, place some sort of a speed bump on the very highest-payroll clubs," Manfred said.

Manfred said the owners' proposals were made to "reduce revenue disparity" and that they contained "a very, very limited form of payroll regulation designed to improve competitive balance."

Fehr wouldn't respond to Manfred's statements, saying only: "Rob knows better."

In his memos, Fehr said players agreed to raise the amount of money to be transferred in revenue sharing from $169 million to $235 million annually, and said owners proposed $282 million be transferred.

Owners have asked to tax the portions of payrolls over $102 million and want a tax rate of 37.5 to 50 percent. They say the plans would increase competitive balance by decreasing the difference between the highest and lowest payrolls.

Players, not wanting to slow spending that much, have proposed thresholds of $130 million to $150 million, with a tax rate of 15 to 30 percent.

Fehr said seven teams currently have 2002 payrolls above the owners' threshold, with the Yankees at $171.2 million, followed by Texas ($131.4 million), Los Angeles ($118.8 million), Boston ($114.8 million), the Mets ($112.9 million), Arizona ($112.1 million) and Atlanta ($110.4 million). These figures include the average annual values of players on 40-man rosters plus about $7.7 million in benefits.

Just below the threshold, according to Fehr, are Seattle ($98 million), St. Louis ($96.3 million), San Francisco ($94.5 million), the Chicago Cubs ($93.2 million) and Cleveland ($92.3 million).

"Simply put, the clubs' proposed tax is designed to and would apply enormous pressure to reduce payrolls," Fehr said. "Its purpose is to lower salaries."

The Yankees are so concerned about their position that team president Randy Levine and chief operating Lonn Trost met Friday with Bob DuPuy, baseball's No. 2 official, and Manfred. The two Yankees representatives told them the owners' proposals, if put in effect, would leave the team insolvent or close to it, a source with knowledge of the meeting said Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.

With the deadline for baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972 drawing near, several owners have spoken up in recent days.

Moores said if baseball is shut down, "I'll be prepared to sit out a season."

"I'm not going to be a part of a crazy system where we have to keep raising ticket prices," he told the Times in Tuesday's editions.

He did not return a telephone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Last weekend, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks said if players strike, owners may push for a salary cap. Fehr, in his memo, called the current proposals "tantamount to a salary cap."

"If the owners really wanted a salary cap, they know how to propose a salary cap and they would have instructed me to do so," Manfred said. "Instead, we approached this negotiation with a modest set of proposals that alone or in combination cannot be fairly characterized as a salary cap."

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