Players fill out tax form, hoping to deduct strike

September 09, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Major League Baseball Players Association has submitted a raw proposal to management that would restrict salaries subtly and redistribute revenues more evenly throughout the major leagues, but whether it will end the 29-day-old baseball strike may be another story.

The plan is believed to call for a standardized 75-25 split of gate revenues in each league and for the top 16 clubs by revenue to pay a 2 percent payroll tax that would go into a central fund to subsidize the other 12 teams.

It was submitted to the owners at about 6 p.m, after MLBPA officials huddled throughout the day with the union's executive board, explaining to the player representatives the ramifications of a complex alternative to ownership's revenue-based salary cap. Union economists also were on hand to determine just what the new proposal would cost.

The management bargaining team spent the night reviewing the proposal and is expected to respond today. It seems unlikely the owners will accept the proposal, but it still could serve as a turning point.

"I don't know whether to be optimistic or not optimistic," union director Donald Fehr said last night. "I've adopted the posture that I'll be optimistic when I can see a settlement about an hour away.

"All I can tell you is, we'll keep trying as long as they are willing to meet with us."

The owners originally proposed a "hard" salary cap, which means they would have set maximum and minimum payroll limits. The players dismissed that concept out of hand, substituting a "soft" cap -- in the form of a taxation system that would help level the economic playing field between small- and large-market clubs.

The new proposal grew from a revelation last weekend that the owners had not made the true extent of their revenue-sharing agreement known to the union. Once union officials realized the owners were more serious about sharing among themselves, they took the ownership plan a few steps further in the hope of creating the framework for a compromise.

"Before the strike began, we made a series of alternative revenue-sharing proposals . . . to no effect," Fehr said. "It didn't go anywhere because it was directed at a plan that didn't exist. What we did was ask ourselves, what would we have done if we had known then what we know now and would it mean anything?

"The process is still ongoing. We do believe that the result of this is a concept that is worth discussing."

The "tax plan" would have an adverse effect on the growth of player salaries, but it would not be nearly so dramatic as the ownership proposal that called for a hard cap based on a 50-50 split of total revenues.

Still, the new approach might not be considered a major concession on the part of the union, since it largely redistributes dollars that already would go to the owners. Ownership's salary cap proposal called for a significant drop in the percentage of revenues that go to player salaries.

The 75-25 gate split would not be a significant hardship on American League teams, which already give up 20 percent of gate receipts to visiting clubs. But it would represent a significant redistribution of wealth throughout the National League, where the home clubs keep about 95 percent of their gate receipts.

The impact of the tax concept would depend entirely on the percentage of payroll and revenue that each team would have to contribute, but it seems unlikely the union would agree to any number large enough to inhibit player movement or value.

"There are some things that need to be fine-tuned," said Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Brett Butler, one of 11 players to take part in yesterday's union meeting. "Obviously, we're not going to accept a salary cap, but we were willing to go over the alternatives. Of course, we're not going to go for just anything."

Butler expressed cautious optimism, but he also pointed out that a daunting list of non-economic issues still awaits the two sides once the major economic issue is resolved.

"Hopefully, this is a positive," he said. "But . . . the non-economic issues also have to be in the package."

No matter how the owners respond, it appears unlikely a deal can be finalized in time to meet today's ownership-imposed JTC deadline. But acting commissioner Bud Selig already has said it could be moved back if the talks showed promise.

Union officials have indicated that the postseason could be saved as late as Sept. 17, though that might necessitate adding a week to the regular season.

No doubt, all of that will be discussed in the next day or so if the union proposal persuades the owners to back away from a hard cap. If this last-ditch effort to save the season fails, however, both sides could be in for a long and litigious winter.

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