Talks slowly round third Luxury tax plan appears settled

meetings to continue

August 12, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Negotiations between baseball owners and players slowed perceptibly last night, but it still appears that the 3 1/2 -year dispute that damaged the 1994 and '95 seasons will come to an end soon.

Management chief negotiator Randy Levine met with representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Association several times yesterday and early this morning in New York, following up on a negotiating marathon that stretched from early Friday until late Saturday night. The heady optimism that came out of that round-the-clock bargaining session was felt in ballparks all over the major leagues, but the issues under discussion are so complex that it could take many more hours to sort them out.

The owners and players apparently have settled on a luxury taxation plan that would penalize large-market teams for heavily outspending their small-market counterparts, but they have spent the past three days trying to settle on the particulars.

It appears that a 35 percent luxury tax will go into effect next year for excess payroll over a per-team threshold of $51 million and continue with graduating thresholds through the 1999 season. The 2000 season would be tax-free, and the 2001 season remains under discussion, perhaps to be traded for a concession on some other issue.

The new agreement also is expected to call for a significant raise in the minimum salary, from $109,000 to $150,000 next season, with further increases in the ensuing years of the agreement, and for a change in the salary arbitration format.

Though negotiators are not under any deadline to reach an agreement, the owners have indicated that they are ready to return to federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor to ask her to lift the injunction that kept them from imposing work rules unilaterally on the players. If she agreed, they would be able to declare an impasse and change baseball's economic system without input from the union. But there is incentive for both sides to avoid that drastic course of action.

It could prompt another damaging work stoppage and set into motion another round of legal skirmishes that can do nothing but further harm to the image of the sport.

No one thinks that is going to happen.

"Finally, we may be getting some conclusion to this nightmare," said New York Yankees pitcher David Cone, the club's player representative.

Union head Donald Fehr met with Levine for about 45 minutes yesterday afternoon. Then the two recessed and were scheduled to get back together last night. The differences between them, in comparison to the degree of polarization a year ago, are minor, so it may just be a matter of working out the smaller details over the next day or two.

Pub Date: 8/12/96

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