Baseball talks show signs of life

October 07, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

The baseball labor negotiations have been stalled for weeks, but there are indications both sides soon will make one final push for a settlement before the owners declare an impasse and unilaterally implement a new player compensation system.

In Milwaukee on Wednesday, acting commissioner Bud Selig listened to the joint revenue-sharing plan that was devised by Orioles owner Peter Angelos and agreed to give it further consideration.

In Colorado the past two days, players association director Donald Fehr twice met with Rockies owner Jerry McMorris.

In New York, there is strong speculation that collective 'u bargaining will resume on Monday or Tuesday.

There has been no public change in the position of either bargaining team, but the flurry of activity -- and the apparent nature of the back-room negotiations -- may indicate that the owners are looking for a way out of the current stalemate.

McMorris was a major player in the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to the union's ill-fated payroll and revenue tax proposal in early September. This time, he and Fehr discussed some possible areas of compromise during a pair of meetings Wednesday night and yesterday morning.

"We had a positive meeting and a thorough exchange of ideas on how to get the talks started again," McMorris said, "and hopefully that will happen by the end of next week. . . . No credible plan emerged that we could lay on the table, but hopefully we can find something everyone can live with."

The discussion covered a variety of topics, apparently including Angelos' revenue-sharing plan.

"I'd say it was a very preliminary assessment of where we are," Fehr said. "If I hadn't been flying back from L.A., I probably wouldn't have done it this way. We'd have done it by phone."

The Wednesday meeting in Milwaukee served a couple of purposes. It gave Angelos the opportunity to send his proposal through the proper channels, and it allowed him to do some important fence-mending with the acting commissioner. If he is to have any role in the resolution of the labor dispute, he'll have to rebuild his credibility with the owners.

A source said that Major League Baseball took the proposal seriously enough to perform a computer analysis of it yesterday.

The plan calls for players to contribute 3 percent of their salaries (about $30 million per year) to a revenue pool that would be combined with the money raised by ownership's revenue-sharing plan. The result would be a $100 million per year superfund to bail out struggling teams and fund revenue-enhancing projects such as stadium construction.

Angelos found the union surprisingly open to the concept, though the "tax" would constitute a major financial concession. Did he find a receptive ear in Milwaukee?

"That's hard to say," Angelos said yesterday. "It was fully discussed and completely understood. We'll just have to wait and see. I considered the observations that [Selig] made constructive. I don't know if you could say the meeting represented progress . . . but it represented a positive step toward a solution."

It may represent the only realistic alternative to the legal and logistical nightmare that lies ahead if the owners unilaterally impose their salary cap. The owners rejected the ownership tax plan that was proposed by the union in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the cancellation of the playoffs and World Series, but a player tax would figure to be more palatable.

"If the owners recognize that the players association is not going to accept the artificial limits of a salary cap, it might be considered," said a source close to the negotiations. "It's asking a lot of the players, but it is not asking them to violate the basic principle that they have fought for for 90 years."

In the meantime, the owners continue to press for a 45-day freeze on all off-season business while they determine how to proceed without a labor agreement. The union is unlikely to agree to suspend normal operations, so the owners will have to decide whether to go ahead with the freeze on their own and risk a possible collusion grievance.

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