- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

NEW YORK Baseball negotiators worked relentlessly last night to avert a strike just hours before the deadline, leaving players, owners and fans across the country wondering whether the season would continue.

Lawyers for both sides, carrying proposals and umbrellas, shuttled between the commissioner's office and union headquarters on a gray, rainy day, trying to reach agreement on a labor contract before today's games.

"We're just going to keep working," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "I've been prepared to stay for the night all week. Of course, there is an increase in sense of urgency. No one wants to lose a single game or a single day of games."

There was no set time for the start of a strike, which would be the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972. The first game affected would be St. Louis at Chicago, which is scheduled to begin at 3:20p.m. EDT. Fourteen games are scheduled at night.

"We're not going to send players to that stadium to take batting practice and open up the gates and all that stuff, where if a deal doesn't get worked out they would have to leave," Tampa Bay player representative John Flaherty said. "We wouldn't want to put anyone in that situation."

After five bargaining sessions Wednesday and three yesterday, the sides remained apart on the key issues: levels for a luxury tax and revenue sharing. Other unresolved issues were the owners' desire to fold two teams and the expiration date of any new settlement.

Both sides met early in the evening to work on the drug testing agreement reached this week. The main talks resumed just before 9:30p.m., when union head Donald Fehr and his top aides went to the commissioner's office along with Atlanta's Tom Glavine and B.J. Surhoff. The union's executive board scheduled its second conference call of the day for 11p.m.

Fehr and the players met with Selig for about 10 minutes before the larger session, then returned to the union office shortly before 11 p.m. for the executive board's second conference call of the day. A pair of union lawyers remained at the commissioner's office, and talks continued as midnight approached.

"It's weird. Everybody's wondering what's going on. I think this is the only time that if you're a patient person, you lose your patience," said Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Rijo, who bought tickets to fly home to Miami today despite a scheduled home game.

The walkout threatens the final 31 days and 438 games of the regular season, and imperils the World Series canceled by a strike in 1994 for the first time in 90 years. If a strike drags into mid-September, the postseason would be in jeopardy.

Many fans vented their frustration with signs at yesterday's 10 games. In the upper deck at Cincinnati, one banner said, "There's No Crying In Baseball."

"Both sides are being awfully greedy, considering what is happening economically in this country," said Mary Anne Curran, a fan at the Pirates-Braves game in Pittsburgh. "I find it disgusting they can't find a happy medium when they're talking about millions of dollars."

Glavine, the National League player representative, arrived at the union's office several hours after the game.

"There's going to be a lot of posturing. Nobody is going to show their best hand until they have to," he said.

Each side sent two lawyers to the main bargaining sessions. Owners were represented by DuPuy and Rob Manfred, and the players sent Michael Weiner, the union's No.3 official, and Steve Fehr, brother of Donald.

Meanwhile, President Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers, said the White House wouldn't get involved.

"The owners and players need to keep in mind not only what a strike would do to the future of baseball, but also what it would to America during a time of national unity and national spirit," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after talking with Bush.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, asked the panel's chairman to schedule hearings on revoking baseball's antitrust exemption if players strike.

"If baseball is determined to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, Congress should send a clear message to the owners and players for a plague on both your houses," Specter said in the letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy.

At the ballpark, Bush helped build in Arlington, Texas, the Rangers' clubhouse was filled with boxes for players' belongings.

"It doesn't sound real good from what I've heard in the last few hours," said Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who would lose the most of any player, $114,754 a day. "You just have to prepare yourself for the very worst."

The old contract expired after the World Series last November, and talks for a new deal began in January. Players, fearful owners would lock them out after the postseason, decided to force a confrontation late in the season, when more revenue is at stake.

The key argument is over the levels of increased revenue sharing and the luxury tax. Commissioner Bud Selig, upset in recent years by the domination of the New York Yankees and other wealthy teams, wants to increase the amount of locally generated revenue teams share from 20 percent to 36 percent. Players have proposed 33.3 percent and want to phase in the increase.

To slow salaries, owners have asked for a luxury tax that would penalize high-spending teams. The sides got closer yesterday, with owners increasing the proposed threshold for the tax to $112million, an increase of $5million, Boston Red Sox player representative Johnny Damon said. The union lowered its threshold an equal amount to $120 million, he said.

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