Baseball players failed to set a strike date Monday but said they will prepare their teammates for the possibility of the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
Members of the union's executive board, meeting on the day before the All-Star game, left a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport saying they will go back to their teams and get a consensus on whether players are ready to strike to fend off the economic changes owners have proposed.
"From the players' standpoint, a strike is a last resort," union head Donald Fehr said. "It would not be entered into unless the players feel they had no other viable option, and it is our hope over the next few weeks we will be able to have the kinds of serious and substantive discussions with major league owners we have heretofore been unable to have, and will resolve these issues."
During a five-hour session, Fehr briefed players on the slow-moving talks, which are scheduled to resume Thursday in New York.
Owners have proposed a vast increase in the percentage of local revenue each team would share and a tax on high-payroll teams, which combined would slow the increase in salaries. They have skyrocketed from an average of $51,500 in 1976 to $2.38 million on opening day this year.
Owners say only the large-market teams can win, and that more revenue sharing and a drag on salaries is needed to restore competitive balance.
"Guys have paid the price for you," Cleveland pitcher Paul Shuey said. "If it comes to that, you pay the price for the future."
Fehr said setting a strike date was never on his agenda for Monday.
"That was never the purpose of the meeting nor was it the result of the meeting," he said. "We did, of course, discuss all options for the future but no action in that regard was taken."
Fehr said the player representatives will ask each of the 30 teams to give the union's executive board authority to set a strike date.
"There will be discussions at the individual club level over the next couple of weeks," Fehr said.
That is similar to what happened eight years ago, when the union's executive board met in Pittsburgh on the day before the All-Star game. The executive board then held a conference call 17 days later and set a strike for Aug. 12. The strike lasted until the following April and wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1904.
Players also discussed the owners' proposal to test for steroid use and said they would try to get a sense from their teammates on what the union's position should be.
"It is an issue that is going to come up in the bargaining and has, and will be dealt with," Fehr said.
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