No movement on top issues in labor talks

Players, owners reach accord on steroid testing, but tax impasse remains

Owners await revenue response

Selig to join talks

Friday strike threat alters flights

August 28, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Baseball's labor negotiations inched toward a Friday strike deadline yesterday with no concrete movement toward a compromise on management's demand for heavily increased revenue sharing and a large luxury tax on the game's highest payrolls.

Negotiators met three times and reportedly finalized the details of a steroid-testing plan, but the management bargaining team still is waiting for the Major League Baseball Players Association to respond to the improved revenue-sharing and luxury tax proposal that the owners introduced on Sunday.

Instead, representatives of the players and owners held what lead management negotiator Rob Manfred characterized as "conceptual discussions" on both core issues, perhaps as a prelude to more concrete negotiations today.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is expected to arrive in Manhattan this afternoon to join the talks, but Manfred insisted that Selig's physical presence at the negotiating site was not a prerequisite for major progress toward a new labor agreement.

"I think people's expectations of the commissioner are a little unrealistic," Manfred said. "Baseball is, in essence, a major corporation and it is a rare event when the CEO of a major corporation takes part in the labor negotiations."

Selig has kept in very close touch with the negotiating team, which also includes Selig lieutenant Robert DuPuy, Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail and Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Manfred estimated that he spoke on the phone with Selig 15 times during the series of meetings yesterday.

"The negotiating committee that is here has full authority to reach an agreement on behalf of the 30 clubs," Manfred said. "But trust me, if we can reach an agreement, we will have fully consulted with and will have the commissioner on board with anything we do."

The players and owners have been close to an agreement on a steroid-testing plan for several days and apparently closed on that issue last night, though no details were released.

"The drug testing is a done deal," Los Angeles Dodgers player representative Paul Lo Duca said. "We agreed on that, and that's great. They're getting closer and closer."

The last major sticking point was the term of the program. The union wanted random testing to be suspended if the number of players testing positive for steroid abuse fell below a set percentage. The owners proposed a program that would run through the entire four-year labor agreement.

The concept of testing, however, was never considered a potential deal-breaker since polls showed a large percentage of players in favor of cleaning up the messy problem of performance-enhancing drugs.

The union briefed player representatives by conference call yesterday and at least a few of them came away with the impression that a strike could be averted.

"I'm still optimistic," said National League player representative Tom Glavine. "I really think we're going to get something done. I think there are still going to be some ups and downs between now and Thursday. ... But ultimately I'm optimistic that we're going to get something done."

Detroit Tigers assistant player representative Brandon Inge said the issues are close enough to resolution that a deal could be done in a day "if both sides wanted."

Meanwhile, however, teams are altering travel arrangements in anticipation of a possible strike. Several clubs have moved back charter flights tomorrow to Friday morning just in case Friday's games are canceled. But Manfred said last night that the owners are focused on continuing the season.

"Our position is, we will be prepared to play games on Friday, Saturday and whenever," he said. "It [the option to strike] is not our decision."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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