Deadline passes without baseball deal

September 10, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Three days of furious maneuvering bred hope that a settlement might be near in baseball's labor dispute, but a players union proposal to end the 30-day strike was rejected yesterday just hours before a management-imposed deadline to save the rest of the 1994 season.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig traveled to New York to join the negotiations, but a meeting between the union and management bargaining units lasted only long enough for the owners to dismiss a compromise revenue-sharing proposal that had been hastily devised by the players.

"Unfortunately, we're in the position of having to report to them our disappointment in their proposal," Mr. Selig said. "In our judgment, that proposal was unresponsive to the long-term interests of baseball and the concerns we've been asking them for a long time to address."

The deadline has passed. The season, if Mr. Selig was to be believed on Sept. 2, no longer can be resumed, yet he would say only that Major League Baseball would have an announcement on the possible cancellation of the playoffs and World Series early next week.

The owners are standing firm on a proposal that would redistribute revenues to some struggling clubs and finance it by putting a cap on player payrolls. The Major League Baseball Players Association has insisted from the beginning that it will not agree to any system that artificially restricts player salaries and inhibits the movement of players from team to team.

That is where the dispute has stood since the owners formally delivered their salary-cap proposal to the players on June 26. The union went on strike on Aug. 12, and there have been four formal bargaining sessions since.

There was speculation that a breakthrough was imminent after Mr. Selig set yesterday as the deadline to save the rest of the season and behind-the-scenes meetings between the union and Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris encouraged the players formulate the new revenue-sharing proposal.

The plan called for all major-league teams to share 25 percent of their home gate receipts with visiting clubs and for a 1.5 percent tax on the payrolls and revenues of the 16 richest teams to help subsidize struggling, small-market franchises.

"Today we heard that they appreciated the effort, but they wanted to talk about a salary cap," union chief Donald Fehr said. "There could not be a clearer indication of why there is a strike that is about to be a month old. They are still stuck on stuff they have been stuck on for it seems like a generation.

"Apparently, this is a case where it doesn't matter what the proposal is if it doesn't artificially hold down salaries and destroy the free market."

Mr. Selig and Boston Red Sox general partner John Harrington met with Mr. Fehr and other union officials last night, but nothing came of that meeting either. The players union has never taken ownership's gloomy economic forecast seriously, and the owners have refused to respond to any idea that does not guarantee them some form of "cost certainty."

The ownership proposal would cap payrolls at 110 percent of the industry average and limit player salaries to 50 percent of the majors' total revenues.

"Our overriding objective is to seek some way of tying salaries to industry revenues," ownership negotiator Richard Ravitch said.

The players, who currently get about 58 percent of total revenues in salaries and benefits, don't see the need for such a link. They consider the revenue gap between the large- and small-market clubs to be a management problem that can be solved without their help.

"The thing that's most perplexing about this," Mr. Selig said, "is that we've had a horrible time establishing any common ground even on the basic facts."

In the meantime, time appears to have run out on saving the rest of the regular season, originally set to end on Oct. 2.

Mr. Selig apparently couldn't bring himself to make that official, but it would be extremely difficult to settle the long list of economic and non-economic issues in time to salvage even a couple of weeks of regular-season play.

"To get the season resumed, something has to be in motion in the next 72 to 96 hours," said Gene Orza, the union's associate general counsel.

To save the playoffs and World Series only, he said, would require a settlement by Sept. 25.

That timetable could be extended if both sides were willing to push the season back a week or two and -- perhaps -- play the World Series at a neutral, warm-weather site in November, but Mr. Selig said he did not expect that to happen.

He left open the possibility of more last-ditch negotiations to save the postseason, but appeared resigned to go down in history as the man who canceled the World Series.

"Nobody dreads these circumstances more than I do," Mr. Selig said. "In spite of what I occasionally read and hear, I assure you that we not only have taken this situation seriously, we have gone to great lengths to avoid it."

No formal negotiations are scheduled for the weekend, but lawyers from both sides have scheduled two meetings for today, one on non-economic issues and one on revenue sharing.

"We don't know where to go from here," Mr. Fehr said. "It has become progressively harder [to save the season], but we're not going to shut any doors."

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