- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Turns out an entire offseason of turmoil caused by contraction was just a warmup.
"Now," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said last week, "we can focus on the main event, and certainly the negotiation is the main event."
Selig's mantra has been "competitive disparity" for the past few years. He says fans of teams in middle American have lost "hope" and "faith" in their teams more often than Curt Schilling talked about "aura" and "mystique" during last year's World Series.
Selig and many owners are upset that high-spending teams dominate the postseason. Selig commissioned an economic study report which in December he told the House Judiciary Committee he wrote and is using the report to justify the need for economic change in the deal that replaces that old labor contract, which expired Nov. 7.
At some level, it's working. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, pressed union head Donald Fehr during Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which left management officials happy that their viewpoint has won over some converts on Capitol Hill.
While owners have proposed increasing the amount of shared local revenue, after deductions for ballpark expenses, from 20 percent to 50 percent, the union has proposed only 22.5 percent.
When pushed by Feinstein, Fehr said players had made only "an initial proposal" and that they favor "significant additional revenue sharing of one sort or another."
The debate over revenue sharing, along with the owners' proposal to reinstate a luxury tax, is likely to become the central issue of collective bargaining, which the sides say will resume soon now that folding franchises no longer is an issue for the 2002 season.
Players worry that vastly higher revenue sharing coupled with a luxury tax will take away too much money from high-revenue teams that would spend it on payroll. Fehr says "players aren't a luxury" and points out that when a luxury tax did exist, from 1997 to 1999, revenue sharing was at a much lower level.
DeWine, going point by point through the study committee's recommendations, wanted to know why the union didn't agree.
"If you want to win consistently, you have to spend a lot of money year after year after year," he said. "Most teams can't afford to do that. And therefore, in reality, most teams cannot compete."
The players' association, an advocate of free-market economics, is happy with the current system of free agency and salary arbitration, which has seen the average salary grow from $51,501 in 1976 the last season before free agency to $2.14 million last year.
Selig is clearly unhappy. He has failed three times to get great change, first as chairman of the Player Relations Committee in 1985 and 1990, then as acting commissioner during the 1994-96 negotiations that caused a 232-day strike and the first canceled World Series since 1902.
This time, as commissioner, he vows talks will be different.
Thus far, neither side has threatened what would be baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
But Paul Beeston, baseball's chief operating officer and lead negotiator, has told people in the commissioner's office that he intends to leave within a few months. Beeston has been the official who has had the most contact with Fehr, and his departure could signal a more hard-line stance.
"Why we're here is an inability to get a labor deal that works," Selig's chief lawyer, Bob DuPuy, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Fehr thus far has kept down the public rhetoric and hasn't given a detailed public response to Selig's proposals or his claim of a $232 million operating loss last year. When that happens, baseball players and owners could be clashing in public yet again.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide