- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

NEW YORK Alex Rodriguez offered yesterday to slash his record-setting salary if it would help baseball a novel approach to solving the sport's problems as it moved within a week of another strike.
"I would take a cut in pay 30 to 40 percent if it would make the game better," the Texas Rangers shortstop said yesterday at Yankee Stadium before adding, "It's not a very realistic proposition."
Rodriguez's $252million, 10-year contract is the richest in sports, and many owners have pointed to it as a sign of baseball's imbalance between rich and poor.
Seven days before the threatened Aug.30 strike date, the sides avoided the key issues. Management said it expects a new proposal from the union today on the key economic elements of a labor deal.
Meanwhile, former commissioner Fay Vincent predicted baseball won't be able to avoid its ninth work stoppage since 1972.
Vincent, ousted 10 years ago by a group led by current commissioner Bud Selig, praised his successor for what owners have achieved in bargaining. Still, he thinks Selig will be unable to stand up to hardline owners who want a new economic system.
"I think he has done a very good job in this negotiation of getting more from the union than I would have thought possible," Vincent said. "He's in a position to declare victory. That's an enormous achievement.
"If he would just admit 30 percent is a victory and not 90 percent, he would have a victory. All Selig has to say next week is that 'this is the best we're going to get. It's a victory.' But I don't think he will do that."
Selig, who determined the owners' labor policy during strikes in 1985 and 1994-95 and a lockout in 1990, said he was hopeful there would be a deal but didn't go into specifics.
"Nobody on this Earth is more hopeful than I," Selig said. "Yes, I'm optimistic. I'm always an optimist, in everything in life. You have to be, especially when you have a job like I have. And these are different from past labor negotiations. So, I'm hopeful. But time will tell."
The sides spent yesterday discussing issues such as drug testing, the amateur draft, player discipline, scheduling, licensing, medical care, and regulations on uniforms, according to Rob Manfred, the owners' chief labor lawyer. Although not far apart on revenue sharing, they remain divided on the luxury tax, designed to cause high-payroll teams to spend less on players.
"We're at the point in time where we really need to get at the core issues and see if we can get them resolved," Manfred said.
"The pace on those issues needs to improve," he said, adding, "I think all the issues that we have out there are resolvable."
Asked what needs to spark talks on the key issues, union head Donald Fehr replied, "Rob knows what he has to do."
It appears any movement is likely to take place in the day or two before the strike deadline, which starts with games Friday afternoon. The union still hasn't decided whether players should travel to the next series after Thursday's games.
"I don't see a lot happening until the last 48 hours, 24 hours," Rodriguez said.
Asked if only the imminent pressure of a walkout would cause movement, Fehr said, "Let's hope the owners don't make that mistake again."
While some owners, such as Texas' Tom Hicks and San Diego's John Moores, said in the past week that baseball needs revolutionary change, Manfred is confident that he can work out an agreement owners will ratify. Moores said he would prefer a year-long shutdown to a bad deal.
"There is no owner, forget segment of owners, that I am aware of that would prefer a work stoppage to an agreement," Manfred said. "I have absolutely no concern with our ability to get ratified with anything in neighborhood of the proposals we have on the table."
Players made a new proposal on steroid testing, according to Manfred, who said it moved toward owners "modestly." The union said Aug.7 that it would be willing to have mandatory random testing for illegal steroids.
Players want 2003 to be a survey, and proposed that if more than 5 percent test positive, a second survey be taken in 2004. If more than 5 percent test positive that year, mandatory random testing would start the following year.
"No matter what the circumstances are, we want to have testing for steroids throughout the agreement," Manfred said.
The sides are about $33million apart on how much money to move from the rich teams to the poor. Owners are at $268million and players at $235million, using 2001 figures.
Owners have proposed a luxury tax on portions of payrolls above $102million, with rates of 37 to 50 percent. Players have proposed thresholds of $130million to $150million, with rates of 15 to 30 percent.
Before responding to the last management proposals, the union's executive board held a telephone conference call. Many players, however, did not listen in.
Anaheim's Scott Schoeneweis was among the few pessimistic players.
"The only sense I have is feeling there will be a strike," he said. "That's the only thing I'm sure of."
Atlanta's Tom Glavine hopes for compromise.
"The last time, it was kind of an all-or-nothing on both sides. And I think because of that, I think it was easier to have more hardline guys on their side because they were digging in and getting ready for a fight," he said.
"This time around, both sides I think inevitably are going to get to a position where they have to really sit down and figure out what's left to fight for. And when that happens, you start to get more guys who are on the fence. That may reduce the number of hard-liners on their side."

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