- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

MILWAUKEE Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig yesterday expressed relief players did not set a strike date during meetings Monday. But Selig said the next few weeks of labor negotiations will be critical in determining the sport's future economic course and acknowledged a ninth work stoppage in baseball since 1972 remains possible.

"I'm happy they didn't set a strike date," Selig said. "There's so much pressure on both sides now. I don't really think we need any pressure. But we have differences, we have pragmatic differences, we have philosophical differences and we need to deal with those."

"The next three or four weeks are crucial, no question," he added.

Labor talks resume tomorrow.

The owners want to increase local revenue sharing among clubs from 20 percent to 50 percent and implement a 50 percent tax on payrolls above $98 million. The changes are designed to boost baseball's flagging competitive and economic balance.

The players, while open to increased revenue sharing, remain against any type of payroll tax and also disagree with owners on the method of revenue sharing. More than six months of sporadic negotiations have not produced meaningful progress, and both sides are openly preparing for the possibility that the 2002 season will not be completed.

During the players' meeting Monday in Chicago, a strike date was not set, but a procedure to do so was, and union representatives on each team are now canvassing their teammates on their willingness to strike if need be.

"The clubs have convinced themselves, and have many people, that they cannot maintain the status quo," Selig said. "It is not working. In fact, there are people who really believe that the worst of all the alternatives facing us, status quo is the worst of the alternatives."

Despite Selig's dour outlook, he said he remained thrilled with the All-Star Game being played in his hometown and desperately wants to produce real results at the bargaining table.

"The only way that we're going to solve the problems that exist is at the table, and hopefully starting Thursday when we can get back at it and in the coming weeks make substantial progress towards an agreement."

The previous accord expired last November.

While trying to be conciliatory toward the players, Selig had much harsher words for the U.S. Congress yesterday. The commissioner was openly critical of Washington lawmakers who were quick to lambaste him during a Capitol Hill hearing last December but, by Selig's assertion, slow to due their homework on baseball economics.

At the hearing, centered on the game's long-held antitrust exemption, Selig released an extensive collection of fiscal data claiming the 30 MLB clubs combined to post an operating loss of $232 million in 2001.

"The problem with the cynicism in Washington, if I can be very blunt with you today, is they had not looked at the [financial] numbers yet," Selig said. The commissioner was summoned to explain the owners' intent to eliminate at least two franchises and was grilled at the hearing for more than four hours.

"I would like to say I'm amused at some of the criticism [baseball has received over its financial data], but I am really not amused. I'm disappointed. In Washington, when you heard some of the criticism, they were still boxed up. Let me say it again: The numbers were still in the boxes," Selig said.

Congressional leaders involved in the hearing were not available for comment yesterday. But before the hearing, several legislators, including Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, were frustrated with what they perceived as foot-dragging by Selig in providing requested information.

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