- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

DETROIT — For the first time in decades, baseball won’t have even a hint of worry about a work stoppage once the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expires. Owners and players have struck a tentative, five-year labor deal months ahead of their deadline, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

Intense negotiations wrapped up late Friday and Saturday in New York, and though the deal won’t be formally announced until later this week, it appears all but finalized.

“Good,” St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said before the start of Game 2 of the World Series last night at Comerica Park. “I think we’re all for certainty and not going through a winter of wondering what’s going to be going on. So I applaud the powers with the union and the MLB. It helps us go about our business.”

Baseball’s current labor agreement, signed in 2002, expires Dec. 19. Negotiators for both sides, though, wasted little time agreeing to a new deal, and it appears there will be few major changes.

The previous contract, which was signed Aug. 30, 2002, just hours before the players were set to strike, was hailed for the radical changes it sparked. For the first time in baseball history, big-market teams were subject to significant revenue sharing and a luxury tax, and the results have been dramatic.

The Cardinals or Detroit Tigers, who opened the season ranked 11th and 14th, respectively, in payroll, will become the seventh club to win the World Series in the last seven years. The high-spending New York Yankees, after winning four championships in a five-year stretch, haven’t won a title since 2000.

“Baseball is at an all-time high point right now,” Tigers outfielder Craig Monroe said. “You’ve got low-market teams doing well and different teams winning every year. Getting this done couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Because the sport has thrived on the field and at the bank — commissioner Bud Selig recently estimated baseball would produce $5.2billion in revenue this year, up $1.6billion from 2001 — there was little reason to believe this round of negotiations would be arduous. Unlike in the past, when Selig and union head Donald Fehr routinely badmouthed each other during competing press conferences, these talks were held out of the public eye.

It had become clear in recent days that the two sides were on the verge of a deal with never a thought of a possible work stoppage. Baseball’s last three negotiations (1990, 1994 and 2002) all went down to the wire, with owners locking out players during spring training in 1990 and the 1994 players strike wiping out the World Series for the first time in history.

Clearly, owners and players alike understood how important it was to prevent a similar scenario this time around. Assuming it’s approved in the next few days, the new agreement will run through 2011.

“I think it shows that both sides are willing to come to the table and realize that whatever it takes to get it done might [be] whatever is best for the game,” Cardinals player representative Braden Looper said. “I think that both sides realize [there should be] give-and-take on some things here and there, and for the betterment of the game it will get worked out.”

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