|Friday, August 30
Baseball moving toward settlement
ESPN.com news services
NEW YORK -- Baseball appeared to be moving toward a settlement Friday that would avert a strike later in the day.
Commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr attended a morning bargaining session -- an indication that negotiations could be wrapping up. Lawyers representing teams and players said they were confident the sides could reach an agreement later in the day, though they cautioned a deal had not yet been struck.
An ownership source told ESPN around 11 a.m. ET that he expects a deal to be completed within an hour.
As part of a settlement, owners were willing to agree not to contract teams through the 2006 season, a management official said on the condition he not be identified. Owners attempted to fold the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins after last season but were stopped by Minnesota courts.
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports the final sticking point to an agreement is whether the new collective bargaining agreement expires Oct. 31 or Dec. 31. The players want the deal to expire on Dec. 31 and are willing to give the owners their requested fourth year of a luxury tax at the owners' rate in exchange for that. The union previously has bargained to keep the luxury tax out for the final year of the deal in 2006.
As the hours dwindled, lawyers shuttled between the commissioner's office and union headquarters, crunching numbers and exchanging revised proposals.
Two lawyers from each side bargained until 2 a.m. before the sides broke for caucuses. Players gave owners a proposal during a 20-minute meeting that began at 4 a.m., and owners responded with a counteroffer about 6:30 a.m. The union returned with a response at 9:15 a.m.
''They are down to microcosms,'' the management official said.
There was no set time for the start of a strike, which would be the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972. The first of the day's 15 games would be St. Louis at Chicago, scheduled to begin at 3:20 p.m. ET. Long before noon, game preparations were under way there, with workers outside the ballpark setting up traffic cones. Three ticket windows outside Wrigley Field were open, and Cubs interim manager Bruce Kimm arrived ready for work.
In Boston, Red Sox players boarded a bus outside Fenway Park for a trip to the airport, where they were to catch a charter flight to Cleveland for Friday night's game. The Red Sox had waited four hours before getting clearance from the union to travel to the game.
On ESPN Radio this morning, Twins player representative Denny Hocking said after taking a call from someone he said had a players association caller ID that the deadline now was noon ET.
He also said that the start for the Cardinals-Cubs game today would not be changed. There had been reports that it might change. The noon deadline has not been confirmed by officials from the union or management.
A Cardinals spokesman said the team's players have called for a meeting at 11:30 a.m. ET at the team hotel in Chicago and that the team bus remains scheduled to leave for the game at Wrigley at noon ET. The Cardinals coaching staff is acting as though the game is on and is leaving for Wrigley at 10 a.m. ET as normal.
Fans tossed about a half-dozen foul balls back onto the field during Anaheim's 6-1 win over the Devil Rays, the last game played Thursday night. Many of the 18,820 fans chanted ''Don't Strike, Don't Strike'' during the seventh-inning stretch, and when the game ended, some of them threw debris on the field.
The walkout threatens the final 31 days and 438 games of the regular season, and imperils the World Series -- canceled by a strike in 1994 for the first time in 90 years. If a strike drags into mid-September, the postseason would be in jeopardy.
Anaheim wasn't the only place where fans vented their frustrations.
''Both sides are being awfully greedy, considering what is happening economically in this country,'' said Mary Anne Curran, a fan at the Pirates-Braves game in Pittsburgh. ''I find it disgusting they can't find a happy medium when they're talking about millions of dollars.''
The White House wasn't getting involved.
''The owners and players need to keep in mind not only what a strike would do to the future of baseball, but also what it would to America during a time of national unity and national spirit,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
At the Arlington, Texas, ballpark President Bush helped build as a controlling owner, the clubhouse was filled with boxes for players' belongings.
''It doesn't sound real good from what I've heard in the last few hours,'' said Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who would lose the most of any player, $114,754 a day. ''You just have to prepare yourself for the very worst.''
One hardline owner hoped an agreement would reform baseball's economics. ''We want a deal that will return competitive balance and stop fiscal insanity,'' San Diego's John Moores said in Houston.
The old contract expired after the World Series last November, and talks for a new deal began in January. Players, fearful owners would lock them out after the postseason, decided to force a confrontation late in the season, when more revenue is at stake.
The key argument involves levels of increased revenue sharing and the luxury tax. Selig, upset in recent years by the domination of the New York Yankees and other wealthy teams, wants to increase the amount of locally generated revenue teams share from 20 percent to 36 percent. Players have proposed 33.3 percent and want to phase in the increase.
To slow salaries, owners have asked for a luxury tax that would penalize high-spending teams. The sides got closer Thursday, with owners increasing the proposed threshold for the tax in 2003 to $115 million, the player and management sources said. The union lowered its threshold to $118 million, they said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.