Strike date isn't set yet

But players remain firm in positions, plan to take issues back to teammates

`Looks fairly similar to '94-'95'

Sides to meet Thursday

strike date could follow

July 09, 2002|By Joe Christensen and Peter Schmuck | Joe Christensen and Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ROSEMONT, Ill. - With baseball's labor negotiations looking more and more like 1994 revisited, players decided against setting a strike date yesterday, on All-Star Game Eve, but maintained their hard-line stance against ownership.

The union's executive board held a five-hour meeting near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and the players came away saying they will now take the issues back to their teammates before deciding if and when to strike.

In 1994, the union held a similar meeting in Pittsburgh the day before the All-Star Game. Though no strike date was announced, the executive board reconvened 17 days later by telephone and announced the date as Aug. 12.

The sides still couldn't reach agreement, and baseball had its eighth work stoppage since 1972. That one wiped out the 1994 World Series.

"It looks fairly similar to the '94-'95 deal," Cleveland Indians pitcher Paul Shuey said after the meeting. "You always have to be prepared for [a strike]. You have to go back and tell the players to be prepared."

Preparing for a strike is one thing. Setting a date would have been another, especially because this year's All-Star Game is being held in Milwaukee, hometown of commissioner Bud Selig - the union's chief rival.

"A strike is the last resort," said Donald Fehr, the union's executive director. "It would not be entered into unless the players feel that they had no other viable option.

"It is our hope that over the next few weeks we will be able to have the kind of serious and substantive discussions with major-league owners that we heretofore been unable to have. That is certainly our goal."

With the existing collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the World Series, the two sides have made little progress on a new agreement. In an effort to restore competitive balance between large- and small-market teams, owners have proposed sharing a much greater percentage of local revenues.

Fehr said the union has made counterproposals with lower percentages of local revenue sharing, and that the owners haven't budged. Owners also want a luxury tax, which the union vehemently opposes. Fehr said the sides are closer to agreeing on a worldwide draft.

Players are concerned that if the negotiations last into the fall, owners may try to unilaterally change work rules or lock out players, freezing off-season trades and signings.

The two sides are scheduled to sit down again Thursday, and the next two weeks will likely determine whether the union sets another strike date. Speculation on when that date would fall ranges from mid-August to Oct. 1.

"The object is to find a way to get this done without having to take everybody through another [strike] process," Fehr said. "But if a strike date eventually has to be set, the reason you set it is to reach an agreement. It's not to go out on strike."

Sandy Alderson, baseball's executive vice president, said he believes the union has engaged in a shell game, pushing for solutions that are "inaccessible."

"The union has said no to any sort of competitive-balance tax; I think that's a problem," he said. "They don't want to engage in really solving the issues."

Even though no strike date was set, the union's simple act of holding yesterday's meeting brought these issues to the national forefront on the first day of the All-Star break. Fehr said these meetings fall during the break because it's a rare in-season chance for players to attend.

Orioles outfielder Gary Matthews was the team's lone representative, going in place of official player representative Jason Johnson, who had another commitment. Matthews said he wasn't asked to give the Orioles' position on any of the issues.

"I just came down to get informed," he said. "It was more of an informal meeting for me. You get an idea of the issues out there. We just discussed our options."

At Miller Park, site of tonight's game, some All-Stars had plenty to say on the topic.

"It's frustrating because people think we want to be controversial, and we don't," said New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza. "[A strike] would be a last resort. I hope there's some dialogue, and I hope there's a compromise. ... The problem is a management problem. They want to work it out, but they want the players to pay for it."

Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said: "If we can get an agreement without having to [strike], we're all for it. Unfortunately, that's the only source of leverage. Talking about a strike is ultimately about getting an agreement."

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