Baseball Strike Looms

Miguel Barnet, President of the Cuban Artists and Writers Association, left, is seen along with actor Benicio Del Toro after accepting his award in Havana, Thursday, July 30, 2009. Del Toro accepted a new Cuban government award for international artists for his full body of work, which includes the starring role in the movie, "Che" about revolutionary hero Ernesto Guevara. AP Photo/Franklin Reyes

With just hours to go before the union's midnight strike deadline, and fans and others who depend on baseball getting increasingly tense, baseball players and owners are still trying to negotiate a contract that will avert a strike.

After five bargaining sessions Wednesday, the sides remained apart on levels for a luxury tax and revenue sharing, leaving the sport on track for its ninth work stoppage since 1972. Many players, however, expressed hope for a deal.

"The same issues are unresolved," said commissioner Bud Selig, who arrived in New York on Wednesday evening. "It's been very constructive. Both sides are reaching out, but I can't tell you we're any closer. Only time will tell."

Selig, who presided over the 1994-95 strike that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years, did not participate in the negotiating sessions, which mostly were brief. The last talks ended just past midnight and were to resume Thursday.

"The length of the meeting doesn't always indicate whether it was a good meeting or not," said union lawyer Steve Fehr, the brother of union head Donald Fehr.

Selig appeared briefly at the fourth meeting, only to say hello, union lawyer Michael Weiner said.

"I still think we're going to get something done," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the NL player representative. "I just think we're all too close on too much of this to let it fall apart."

Owners want to slow spending by high-payroll teams with a luxury tax and in their last formal proposal wanted to increase the amount of locally generated revenue that teams share from 20 percent to 36 percent. Players were at 33.3 percent and want to phase in the increase.

While negotiators didn't disclose details, management increased its proposed threshold for the luxury tax by $5 million to $112 million and the union dropped by $5 million to $120 million, Boston player representative Johnny Damon said. The sides were still discussing all the proposed rates and thresholds, and the union didn't want a tax in the final year.

The sides also discussed contract language that dealt with the owners' desire to fold two franchises, one general manager said on condition of anonymity. The union opposes contraction.

Atlanta, Boston, the White Sox, Colorado and Milwaukee pushed back their charters from Thursday to Friday to see what happens at the talks. The first game affected would be at Chicago's Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are to play the Cardinals at 3:20 p.m. EDT Friday.

"Things generally go to the last second," Selig said, "but you do get into dangerous ground when you don't have a deal done late in the day, late at night."

Since the union set the strike date Aug. 16, fans have expressed anger. A sign in the right-field bleachers at Chicago's Comiskey Park on Wednesday read: "On Strike/Who Cares/Go Bears."

"We see the signs, and you hear comments from time to time about strike-related stuff. Sometimes those things are harsh," the Brewers' Mark Loretta said. "It's so hard to try to explain to people what the issues are when you're talking about those kinds of dollars and this kind of industry, and the fans are in the middle of it."

Numerous small businesses - everything from souvenirs to bars and restaurants - depend on baseball to make a living. They are watching the negotiations warily, well aware that a strike could deliver a crippling blow to their bottom line.

A season-ending baseball strike would also deliver a harsh blow to baseball's television revenues, with teams being forced to give back more than $600 million to their TV partners.

Ramifications would be felt for years to come. Fans' anger over another work stoppage likely would lead to diminished television ratings, lower advertising revenues and a reduction in the rights fees that have financed the sport's spiraling salary structure.

Just in case there is a strike, some Cleveland players gave the clubhouse attendants their season-ending tips Wednesday, and Tim Wakefield and Ugueth Urbina of Boston packed their belongings into boxes after a 7-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. The White Sox, also off Thursday, might have ended their season with Wednesday's 8-0 win over Toronto.

"We're packing our bags for Detroit. It doesn't feel like the last game," Chicago's Paul Konerko said. "Even if there is a strike, it will probably only last a couple of days."

Oakland's Barry Zito, his team fighting for a playoff berth, wanted to know what would happen to the schedule if there was a brief stoppage, such as the two-day August strike in 1985. He said union officials told him any missed games would be made up if a strike is short.

"It could be a situation where we could play into October again in the regular season," said Zito, referring to last year, when the season was extended a week because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In Cleveland, Travis Fryman said he will retire after the season, but "I am hoping this isn't the last moment of mine in baseball."

Detroit pitcher Jose Lima said fans blamed the players.

"I told one guy who was yelling at me out by the bullpen, 'Hey, man, nobody wants to go on strike,"' Lima said. "Another guy was yelling, `You greedy so-and-sos.' The fans don't understand everything. What I am worried about is some guy doing something stupid to a player in all of this."

On Tuesday, players said the sides agreed to a drug-testing plan. Los Angeles player representative Paul Lo Duca, who revealed the agreement, was scolded by players on the conference call for misstating it. Lo Duca said the deal covered mandatory random testing for steroids, marijuana and cocaine, but other players corrected him Wednesday.

"Cocaine and marijuana - we're not testing for that. Just steroids," St. Louis player representative Steve Kline said.

  • Pete Brush

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