- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

Major League Baseball and the players' association are preparing to conduct offseason business this fall and winter without any labor agreement at all, if necessary, while a new accord is negotiated.
The current agreement will expire following the World Series, and owners will meet in Chicago on Nov. 6 to begin drafting their plans. Soon afterward, commissioner Bud Selig, union chief Donald Fehr and their top lieutenants are expected begin serious negotiations.
Because all that business will take place following the expiration date, both sides are preparing for at least some temporary life without a deal. Labor law dictates that terms of an existing agreement continue on past the written expiration date, except in the case of a lockout, strike or agreement upon a new deal. Several industry sources said significant movement toward any of those options has not occurred and there has been no serious discussion of simply extending the current pact by a year, as has been widely suggested.
"The deadline can free you to do certain things, but it doesn't necessarily compel you to do things," said a players' association source. "We have gone before without a deal for periods of time. It may happen again."
Baseball's time in the national spotlight will end following the World Series, but between the last pitch and the end of February the owner's meetings, free agency, winter leagues and arbitration hearings are all scheduled.
Despite the ability to continue labor talks past the deal's end, much of the country already has grown nervous about what might happen, given the disparity in viewpoints between the players and owners. A strike or lockout, which can be unilaterally imposed by one side, remains possible.
The game has seen eight work stoppages since 1972, and several owners are believed to be restless for both clarity and improvment in the game's economic structure as they begin budgeting for next season particularly in light of a still-sagging economy. Both sides have been preparing financially for a work stoppage.
The owners still have rather varied goals for their economic future, but Selig is openly seeking to correct the game's striking fiscal and competitive balance, largely through enhanced revenue sharing. Franchise relocation or contraction also has been discussed and likely will be a central topic at the owners' meetings.
The players, in a general sense, will be seeking a continuation of the status quo that has seen the game's revenue increase from less than $1.5 billion in 1995 to nearly $4 billion now and salaries jump from $1.1 million to more than $2.1 million in the same time frame. Unlike other major team sports, the players will not seek a set percentage of overall revenues.
"This is essentially a free-market system in which we believe we can grow the pie together, and clubs will make choices on compensation off of that," the players association source said.
The two sides had intended to begin serious negotiations last month, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks postponed an owners' meeting scheduled in Milwaukee, and both offices spent the rest of the month tied up in rescheduling games and charitable efforts.

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