Owners' plan no hit with players

June 15, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- After bickering for 20 months over a proposal that didn't exist, baseball owners and players finally got down to business yesterday.

Owners presented their long-awaited salary cap plan. The proposal calls for a 50-50 split of revenues between owners and players and would abolish salary arbitration. Management negotiator Richard Ravitch estimated players would receive about $1 billion this season, including benefits.

Ravitch promoted the plan as one that would invigorate baseball and increase revenues for players and owners.

But the players rejected the plan in a fashion that seemed to leave little hope for compromise. And the tense few months that could see the baseball season dissolve officially began.

In a two-hour meeting with union officials yesterday afternoon, Ravitch spelled out the plan for a circumspect Donald Fehr, the union's executive director. Fehr said he welcomed a plan that would put more money in the players' pockets, but said he got few specifics when he questioned Ravitch on how that would happen.

"We asked, 'How does it work? Where does the [extra] revenue come from? Give us the details. sell us on it,' " Fehr said. "Literally, we were stared at. It was 'Trust us, it will work out this way.' "

Union officials reacted predictably, saying the owners' ideas are stale and unhelpful. They also said they haven't ruled out a strike.

A handful of strike dates has been floating around in recent days, from as early as July 16 to as late as Sept. 30. All those possibilities would deprive the owners of a large chunk of their postseason television revenue.

But the union's executive committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow in Chicago, and Fehr said yesterday there were no plans to vote on or to announce a strike date after the meeting. But asked about discussion of a player walkout at the meeting, Fehr said, "I am sure it will come up."

Not that the current state of the negotiations don't seem inexorably to be leading to a strike that the players and owners are all too eager to blame on each other. Gene Orza, a high-ranking union official, said it seemed the owners were inviting a work stoppage by delaying their proposal to the players for so long.

The owners, in effect, opened the collective bargaining season in December 1992 by choosing to "reopen" contract talks with the players.

"The question I ask is, why did it take the clubs 20 months to make this proposal?" Orza asked. "The answer is obvious to me. They took 20 months because they wanted it considered by the players in a crisis environment."

Good to his word, Ravitch put forth a comprehensive salary-cap proposal that, if the union were to go along, would mean radical changes in baseball's player compensation system. Under the owners' plan, the pot of money available to players no longer would be unlimited. The proposal puts a cap on total salaries at 50 percent of revenues, including money the owners get from ticket receipts, TV deals and concession agreements.

The plan would have an immediate effect on the big-spending owners, who under the current system can pay players anything they want.

But Ravitch insisted it also would benefit the players. The new system, he said, would make baseball healthier as an industry, and would greatly expand its overall revenues.

"It is a question of how do you divide the future pot of baseball revenues, and how fast they grow," Ravitch said. "I am convinced that revenue will grow a lot faster when there is a relationship that works for the owners and the players."

Fehr, sitting at the players' union office, said the proposal wasn't new or surprising. "You don't see anybody jumping around saying, 'the owners double-crossed us.' It has been clear this was coming."

Under the salary cap, players would be assured no less than $1 billion unless overall revenues declined. If revenues go up, as they have in most years, the dollars for players' salaries would, too.

Most categories of revenue would be included in the pot. The owners even propose throwing in all licensing revenue generated by baseball -- $80 million to $90 million from the owners and about the same amount the players rake in annually from the sale of licensed merchandise, most notably baseball cards.

Ravitch acknowledged that most of his proposals got a chilly reception. But he seemed undaunted.

"Some comments were disappointing. At one point, Don called something 'un-American,' " he said. "But I hardly expected the union to embrace this proposal."

At Camden Yards last night, there was little reaction. Mike Mussina, the Orioles' player representative, said he hadn't seen the proposal. He said Jim Poole, who is on the pension committee and a member of the players association executive board, will attend tomorrow's meeting in Chicago.


Highlights of the labor contract proposed yesterday by baseball owners to the Major League Baseball Players Association:

* 50-50 revenue split with players.

* After a four-year phase-in period in the seven-year agreement, clubs couldn't have payrolls more than 110 percent of the average or less than 84 percent of the average.

* Salary arbitration eliminated.

* Free-agency threshold would drop from six years of major-league service to four, but players' old clubs would be able to match the highest offer until they have six years' service.

* Escalating scale of minimum salaries for players with less than four years' major-league service, but they could sign for more than the minimum.

* Acceptance by players would trigger the agreement clubs made with each other in January to increase revenue that is shared among teams.

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