- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Baseball players backed off setting a strike date yesterday, citing progress in talks with the owners that indicated there was hope for an agreement.
"There has been progress on a number of issues over the last several days," players union boss Don Fehr said.
This was a setup, of course. The players union executive board will review this so-called progress again on Friday. Then, if they do set a strike date, it will appear as if the owners blew a chance to reach an agreement. At least that's the way I see it.
It is sometimes so difficult to read the tea leaves from the negotiations between owners and players. Yet, the outcome is so predictable.
The owners, fueled by ego, are convinced that they must regain the control of the game they had the first 100 years or so. They think they must draw a line in a diamond to try to bring back at least a piece of the good old days.
The players, on the other hand, are 8-0, undefeated. They have to be saying to themselves, why on earth should we concede on any issue when we always win?
There was hope that negotiations would be more successful this time, particularly based on the union's agreement to mandatory, random drug testing for steroids. But, if anything, that may have been a sign that the talks on other issues would go nowhere.
As far as the players are concerned, they already made a major concession by agreeing to drug testing. That is their give in the give-and-take of negotiations.
But drug testing is a peripheral issue. The give on testing is not an economic concession, and, frankly, the owners couldn't care less if players are using drugs made from the pituitary glands of iguanas if they don't give in on a luxury tax. And Barry Bonds will deflate right before our eyes before that will happen.
That is the only issue that really counts, for either side player salaries and the control of them. That is always the issue that causes work stoppages, and it will always be the issue.
The owners want a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payroll above $98million. That figure covers the entire 40-man roster and benefits, not just the 25-man roster often used to report salaries and determine team payrolls in the media. The old contract the one under which both sides still operate called for a 35 percent tax in 1997 and 1998 and a 34 percent tax in 1999 on the portions of payrolls above the midpoint of the fifth-highest payroll and sixth-highest payroll.
Under that plan, teams wound up paying nearly $31million over the term of the contract, money then distributed through revenue sharing among small-market teams. Owners felt it did little to put a drag on salaries. Those who were givers instead of takers in revenue sharing, such as Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, were angry when teams like the Expos used nearly their entire revenue-sharing cut to fund payroll, virtually pocketing the money.
So, once again, the owners who can't control or trust each other want the players to do it for them.
The players are happy with the status quo, something many baseball fans fail to grasp. On numerous occasions fans have said to me, "The players have so much, what is it they want now?"
They don't want anything. Why should they? They already have everything.
Critics will say that the players have to give in to help save the game, that baseball is on the verge of collapse. Of course, this idea is based on the testimony of the used car salesman who is posing as the commissioner of baseball.
"The system is so, in my judgement, badly flawed," Cadillac Bud Selig said.
Here's the major flaw: No one believes Cadillac Bud. Not the fans, certainly not the players union, and not even his owners, it seems.
In one of a growing number of lawsuits against Cadillac Bud, Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday said that "Major League Baseball was engaged in a systematic effort to undervalue baseball franchises as part of its labor-relations strategy. In short, MLB, in a desperate attempt to reverse decades of losses to MLB's player's association, determined to manufacture phantom operating losses and depress franchise values."
Would you believe management at your workplace if one of the bosses charged that others were cooking the books they used in negotiations with you?
This is what has led to eight work stoppages, and this is what leads to strike votes. It does not lead to a negotiated agreement.

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