- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

NEW YORK Strike or settle? Six hours before the deadline, baseball players and owners still weren't sure.
Negotiators had been going at it for nearly 23 straight hours when union head Donald Fehr went to commissioner Bud Selig's office Friday and the pair spoke alone.
"That was going to be the make-or-break meeting," said Gene Orza, the union's No.2 official. "If that meeting had ended poorly, it seemed to me there would have been a breakdown and each party would do what they had to do."
Ten minutes later, Selig and Fehr were joined by the four lawyers who had done most of the bargaining during two-on-two sessions as the hours dwindled to the deadline: Bob Dupuy and Rob Manfred for the owners, and Michael Weiner and Steve Fehr the union head's brother for the players.
Then, in baseball tradition, swaps were made during the next two hours. By 11:45 a.m., the deal was done.
"It was workmanlike," said Orza, who spent much of the time in another part of the commissioner's office, with Atlanta's Tom Glavine and B.J. Surhoff, and management officials. "There was no great argument that was necessary to shake somebody out of the doldrums. There was no dramatic, 'OK, OK, I give up,' from either side. It proceeded in a logical way. For everything somebody got, somebody got something, too."
In the end, a sport that has no time limit made a deal because of one.
Friday's schedule of 15 games was to start at 3:20 p.m. EDT the St. Louis Cardinals against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Players, stadium workers and fans were on hold, not knowing what would happen.
In Boston, the Red Sox were in their Fenway Park clubhouse, told by the union not to get on buses to the airport for a trip to Cleveland. Time was running short to get to the games.
"The greatest player is the clock," Orza said yesterday.
After negotiators worked for 25 of the previous 26 days, including non-stop talks and caucuses starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, plenty of issues remained. The biggest was whether the contract would expire on Dec.1, 2006, as owners preferred, or on Dec.31, as the union insisted.
While that point might not seem that important, players and owners battle every labor issue as if it were the ninth inning of Game7 of the World Series. It was a major matter to them because it could affect salary arbitration in 2007.
"That issue was bargained very hard from 1994 to '96," said DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "There were still raw nerves."
What about the luxury tax, which the sides had spent nearly nine months squabbling about? On the chart of rates and thresholds, players had moved closer to owners during a meeting at 4 a.m. Friday, and owners moved closer to players during a 6 a.m. session, both lasting 20 minutes.
"We were fairly close," DuPuy said. "If that was all that was left, there was no way that grid was going to stop a deal."
Players took three hours to respond, which puzzled management, especially with teams needing to travel. DuPuy said Manfred was more optimistic at that point than he was.
When the union came to the commissioner's office at 9 a.m., players said they would agree to an expiration on Dec.19 the last day before teams had to offer contracts to unsigned players for the 2007 season.
Then everything started falling into place. The last bargains struck were a pair of provisions regarding the amateur draft and free agency.
Owners traded a provision that forced clubs signing top free agents to forfeit top draft picks eliminating the last remnant of free-agent compensation, the dispute during a 50-day strike in 1981.
In exchange, management obtained a new provision that calls for teams to get extra selections if they fail to sign their first- and second-round picks in the amateur draft each June.
The final piece was an agreement on rules for the joint union-management committee that will establish a worldwide amateur draft.
For the first time since 1970, players and owners had agreed to a labor contract without a work stoppage although they still must put the agreement in writing. Their previous eight negotiations had resulted in five strikes and three lockouts.
"It would be nice if reaching a deal without a work stoppage is proof that it can be done," DuPuy said.
The terms are far different from the ones discussed during two dozen secret, informal bargaining sessions from March to June2001, he said. Paul Beeston, DuPuy's predecessor, led management's delegation for those talks.
DuPuy said the union refused to consider a luxury tax 13 months earlier and offered only slight increases in revenue sharing. In retrospect, DuPuy thought the 2001 talks were doomed to failure.
"If it took to three hours before a strike deadline, how could you ever envision reaching accord a year in advance when they were at a flat 'No' on one of the key elements and were 80 percent 'No' on the other?" he said.
It's just the nature of bargaining, Orza said.
"Why wouldn't it come down to the last minute?" he said. "Why should the clubs believe anything we say until they're facing the threat of a strike, and why should the players believe anything they say until the players are facing having to go on strike?"

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