Baseball union casts support to hockey brethren

The NHL Players' Association is not alone in its stance against NHL owners, whose demand for a salary cap has resulted in a lockout that has now reached two weeks. Another ally has emerged, albeit behind closed doors: The Major League Baseball Players Association.

The NHL and MLB are the only two major professional sports that do not have a salary cap. The NBA has had one since 1983 and the NFL has had one since 1994.

On Tuesday, MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr sent a letter to all players and their agents announcing the union's support for the NHLPA's stance against a cap.

"Suggestions are rife that NHL hockey will not be played for a long time, unless the players simply concede and agree to eliminate a free market for player salaries," Fehr wrote in a memorandum dated Tuesday and obtained by ESPN.com.

"Unfortunately, this has a familiar ring to anyone who recalls 1994 and/or prior baseball negotiations; we have been through it all before," Fehr wrote. "We understand how difficult it can be and we know how long it can last. But we also know what is at stake. Simply put, this is a battle over free agency: the hockey owners want to eliminate it, and the players want to preserve it. There is nothing more central to players' rights in professional team sports than maintaining a free market. Baseball players know this better than anyone else does."

MLBPA spokesman Greg Bouris would not comment on the memo. It was the organization's policy, he said, to keep dialogue between the union and its players private.

Jonathan Weatherdon, the NHLPA's spokesman, said he was aware of the memorandum, but that the union would have no comment on it.

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 17, 2006. If the NHLPA agrees to a cap, it could be more difficult for the baseball union, which is considered the strongest union among the four major professional sports, to convince the owners not to ask for one in their next agreement.

Wrote Fehr: "The NHL players deserve and have our full support."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com