Deal in sight as gains made with day to go

Gaps on revenue sharing, tax exist, but confidence grows for baseball accord

Smaller issues are all resolved

`Both sides reaching out' but Selig cautious

games tomorrow are up in air


August 29, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Baseball's troubled labor history has turned optimism into an endangered outlook, but there were indications last night that the players and owners were closing in on a new labor agreement.

Commissioner Bud Selig arrived in Manhattan yesterday afternoon to join the negotiations and the two bargaining teams moved back and forth between the offices of Major League Baseball and the players union to exchange ideas and work on contract language.

There still appeared to be a gap between each side's proposals on increased revenue sharing and a luxury tax plan, but management officials seemed more confident that the remaining differences would be worked out before the union strike date threatens tomorrow's games.

"Every time we have a discussion, other than Saturday, the parties have gotten closer," said baseball's chief operating officer Robert DuPuy.

"For the last four months, every time we've had a discussion, I would characterize the discussion as getting us closer. I won't quit. Our goal is to get a deal without a single moment of a work stoppage."

If so, it would be the first time in more than 30 years that the players and owners have come to terms without some kind of work stoppage, either during the regular season or training camp.

It also would mark the first time that a deal was reached with a minimum of public vitriol, the only major flare-up coming after the union submitted its phased-in revenue-sharing proposal on Saturday.

Selig, however, struck a more cautious tone as he left baseball's Park Avenue headquarters during the fourth negotiating session of the day.

"We just had a long night and they're still in there meeting," he said. "We have a lot of issues yet to be resolved, but we're working hard.

"It's been very constructive and both sides have been reaching out, but I can't say we're closer. Time will tell.

"These things generally go to the last second, but you hope you can avoid that."

Negotiators have waded through a variety of issues, already agreeing on a number of less contentious items, including a raise in the minimum major-league salary (to $300,000), the length of the agreement (four years) and, most recently, a testing program to deal with the recent steroid controversy.

Ownership negotiator Rob Manfred confirmed yesterday that the sides had closed on the steroid issue.

"It's all contingent on an [comprehensive] agreement being finalized," he said. "We have an agreement on the testing topic. There will be some kind of unannounced testing every year of the agreement."

Manfred also denied earlier reports that the new program would not include testing for recreational drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine.

"That was not accurate, about marijuana and cocaine," he said. "There can be testing of other drugs on a reasonable cause basis."

The bargaining teams have spent the past two days trying to work through the structural and conceptual differences between each side's revenue-sharing and luxury tax plans.

The last known ownership proposal called for a transfer of $263 million per year from the richest to the poorest teams. The owners also were pressing for a luxury tax plan in which clubs would be assessed a large tax on excess payroll each time they exceeded a payroll ceiling of $107 million in the first three years of the contract and $111 million in the final year.

The union proposal called for a phased-in revenue-sharing increase that started at $172.3 million next year and graduated to $242 million in the final year of the agreement. The players' last luxury tax proposal called for progressively higher annual thresholds (starting at $125 million next year) and lower tax rates (15-20 percent).

Selig arrived at midday and spent the entire evening in the Major League Baseball offices. No one would comment on exactly what role he was playing in the negotiations, but he did not accompany DuPuy and Manfred to the union offices for a meeting in the early evening.

"I'm just here to help keep the talks going and to have a constructive 24 to 36 hours," Selig said upon his arrival.

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