Fehr: Sides getting closer

March 31, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Major League Baseball Players Association unveiled a new settlement offer last night and union director Donald Fehr said that the sides were close to agreement on several key issues, but acting commissioner Bud Selig apparently did not share his enthusiasm.

The union proposed a luxury tax system with a threshold of $50 million and a 25 percent tax on excess payroll, mirroring the $4 million concession made by ownership Monday. The owners' threshold stands at $44 million with a 50 percent tax on excess salary. That differential, and a disagreement over the life span of the proposed tax system, appear to be the only major issues blocking an agreement.

Fehr said last night that the union had chosen to accept the option offered in the most recent ownership proposal to retain the old system of salary arbitration and free agency. He also said other secondary issues were all but settled.

"What we indicated is that we are moving toward closure and we are getting closer on other issues," Fehr said, "and that regardless of other issues, I have suggested that I and the bargaining committee are willing to talk for as long as it takes to resolve this."

The other issues Fehr mentioned include today's hearing in federal court that could lead to an injunction restoring old work rules on free agency and salary arbitration, and yesterday's management vote to approve the use of replacement players to start the 1995 season.

Selig was guarded in his response. He would not comment on the union plan and was mildly critical of the time it took for the players to respond to ownership's Monday proposal -- a proposal that the owners all but said was their final offer.

"I said Monday that the owners strained to make our proposal and we did strain," Selig said, "but we will respond."

The usual ownership bargaining committee was not involved in last night's meeting. Selig was accompanied by American League president Gene Budig, National League president Len Coleman and two management attorneys. Fehr, union counsel Eugene Orza, attorneys Lauren Rich and Michael Weiner and major-leaguers Paul Molitor, Jay Bell, Cecil Fielder, Terry Steinbach and David Cone represented the players.

The exchange of proposals this week represents the most significant attempt to narrow the gap that has kept the negotiations stalemated for months, but the owners still seem hesitant to sit down and hammer out the final compromise. Selig defended their hit-and-run negotiating style, saying that the quality of the negotiations are more important than the actual time spent at the table.

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