Players set for strike Aug. 30

Union, baseball owners seek new labor pact

Payroll tax proposal at issue

Bush says he'll be `furious' if stoppage happens

August 17, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Major League Baseball Players Association has set an Aug. 30 strike date, putting pressure on the players and owners to reach a new labor agreement or risk the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972.

Bargainers have just two weeks to avert a strike that could wipe out the final month of the regular season and - in the worst case - mirror the 1994 dispute that vexed fans and caused the cancellation of the World Series.

The decision to set the strike date was made yesterday in a conference call of union player representatives. The union's executive board approved the date 57-0.

The St. Louis Cardinals' game in Chicago against the Cubs on Aug. 30 would be the first affected. Fourteen games are scheduled for that night, including one between the Orioles and the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.

"It's frustrating for the players, it's frustrating for the owners. You get two highly competitive groups, and they both seem to see the rightness of their side," said Orioles Manager Mike Hargrove last night. "But the one good thing is, at least they're talking. ... I'm still very hopeful an agreement will be reached."

If players walk out Aug. 30 and the season is not completed, they would lose 16.9 percent of their base salaries. Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez stands to lose the most, $3,557,377 of his $21 million salary this year. A player at the $200,000 minimum would lose about $33,880.

"It's ridiculous," Brian Orndoff, a 24-year-old locksmith, said at Camden Yards. "Most of the players make over $1 million a year. Schoolteachers make it on 30 grand. What do they have to complain about? If they get what they want, ticket prices will go up. I'm not paying to watch million-dollar crybabies."

The sport generated $3.5 billion in revenue last year, and the average salary rose to a record $2.38 million at the start of this season.

The union was expected to set the strike date Monday but postponed that decision after both sides reported progress in the negotiations and guarded optimism about a possible settlement this week. But that brief semblance of conciliation evaporated as the bargaining committees tackled ownership's proposed 50 percent luxury tax on excessive annual payroll.

The union thinks a heavy tax on high-spending teams would put a drag on the growth of player salaries. The owners say a payroll tax/revenue sharing system is needed to address the serious disparity between the large and small market clubs.

"Clearly, the luxury tax is a major obstacle that has to be resolved before we're going to get an agreement. I think an agreement can be reached," said union head Donald Fehr.

Orioles relief pitcher Buddy Groom said, "There's going to be more pressure to get things done because there are too many new stadiums and too much to be lost by some of the owners."

"We have to do what we've got to do," Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa said.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig made no immediate response.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos could not be reached for comment.

At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush let it be known he will be "furious" if baseball players carry out their threat to strike, sternly urging players and owners to resolve their differences.

"The baseball owners and the baseball players must understand that if there is a stoppage, a work stoppage, a lot of fans are going to be furious, and I'm one of them," Bush said.

The former Texas Rangers owner didn't say whether he will attempt to intervene in the bitter dispute between owners and players as President Bill Clinton tried to do after the World Series was canceled in 1994.

No one wants to repeat the 232-day work stoppage of 1994-1995, which damaged the credibility of both sides and cut deeply into the popularity of the national pastime. However, baseball ownership seems determined to adopt an economic system that slows salary growth and promotes balance.

Selig has spent the past two years trumpeting the game's growing economic crisis, which has persuaded owners to embark on a plan to eliminate two franchises. The owners' labor proposal seeks the luxury tax, greatly enhanced revenue sharing and a drug-testing plan to deal with the steroid controversy. Earlier this season, two recently retired Most Valuable Players, Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti, alleged that steroid use had become commonplace among major-leaguers.

Progress had been made in the negotiations in the area of revenue sharing and drug testing, but the sides are far apart on the luxury tax, which would be imposed on every payroll dollar above a pre-set threshold.

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