Baseball strike countdown nears, but date is up in air, union says

Though agenda in works, report says, Fehr says it won't happen `for a while'

July 23, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Baseball's troubled labor situation is nowhere near resolution, and the increasing friction between management and the Major League Baseball Players Association has put everyone - players, owners and fans - on high alert for another damaging work stoppage.

So no one could have been particularly shocked at a report in yesterday's Los Angeles Times that the union had tentatively settled on Sept. 16 as a likely strike date if slow-moving collective bargaining negotiations fail to produce an agreement.

Sept. 16 is one of several potential strike dates believed to be under consideration by the union, but players and union officials said yesterday that reports of a decision were premature.

"The executive board has not considered a date. It won't for a while," union executive director Donald Fehr said in Cincinnati, where he was briefing Cincinnati Reds players as part of a 30-team informational tour. "We hope we don't have to. We hope we reach an agreement."

Gene Orza, the union's associate general counsel, told ESPN yesterday that Sept. 16 had not been selected. Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine and players from other clubs also denied that they had been asked to approve a particular strike date.

"None of us have voted on anything and none of us have been informed of anything," Conine said before last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. "I got a call from the union saying, `You're probably going to get asked about this, but it's not true. We have not done anything to that effect.' "

New York Mets player representative Al Leiter told a New York radio station that he had not been informed of any decision and indicated that he would be very upset if the union selected a date without informing the player reps.

To quell clubhouse confusion, Fehr sent out a memorandum to player representatives yesterday assuring them that no decision had been made. The Associated Press, citing unnamed union sources, reported that possible strike dates would not be considered until next month.

The players are understandably hesitant to announce a strike date, though it appears to be just a matter of time before they'll have to use their ultimate bargaining weapon to try and create a sense of urgency in the negotiations.

"Everybody is so gung-ho about us setting a strike date, but we haven't done it," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the National League player representative.

Union officials suspect that ownership will lock the players out after the World Series, which could shut down the free-agent market and increase pressure on the union to reach a settlement. The threat of a strike in season is the only leverage the players have until spring training camps are scheduled to open in February.

There was speculation that the players would choose a strike date during a July 8 strategy meeting in Chicago, but the union made no announcement on the day before the All-Star Game.

That speculation centered on three likely dates - Aug. 16, Sept. 16 and Oct. 1. The first two seemed logical because each would allow the players to collect their mid-month paycheck before going out. The Oct. 1 date would allow the players to collect their salaries for the entire season before walking out on the postseason, which generates a large percentage of ownership's national television revenues.

Sept. 16 would be particularly damaging because it also would wipe out the most exciting two weeks of the regular season.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, in Boston for last night's Fenway Park tribute to Ted Williams, declined to speculate on the possibility that another late-season players strike could propel baseball into a disastrous re-enactment of the 1994-1995 labor dispute that forced the cancellation of the World Series.

"I'm always an optimist, and we've been though eight of these since I've been around, since 1970, and I don't even want to think about it," Selig said. "We've got a lot of negotiating sessions. We need to get something done. Everybody's working hard at it, and I just want to continue pushing in that direction."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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