In a memorandum sent to players Monday, union head Don Fehr said no decision on a date has been made, despite a report that one was tentatively set. A union official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said the executive board wouldn't consider setting a date until August at the earliest.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that players had tentatively set Sept. 16 as the start of what would be the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972. A strike date that late would give the sides only a week or two to save the World Series, which is threatened with cancellation for the second time in nine seasons.
"The executive board has not considered a date. It won't for a while," Fehr said in Cincinnati, where he met with players on his tour of the 30 clubs. "We hope we don't have to. We hope we reach an agreement."
The union, seeking an agreement to replace the deal that expired Nov. 7, would consider setting a strike date because it fears that if the season is played to completion, owners would change work rules after the World Series or lock them out.
"Everybody is so gung ho about us setting a strike date, but we haven't done it," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the NL player representative.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, speaking in Boston before Monday night's tribute to the late Ted Williams, said he didn't want to think about the possibility of having to cancel the World Series for the second time in his 10-year reign.
"I'm always an optimist, and we've been though eight of these since I've been around, since 1970, and I don't even want to think about it," Selig said. "We've got a lot of negotiating sessions. We need to get something done. Everybody's working hard at it, and I just want to continue pushing in that direction."
Rob Manfred, management's top labor lawyer, declined comment on the report of a strike date. He said owners are awaiting counterproposals on revenue sharing and a luxury tax.
"It's really in their court," he said.
Owners, claiming teams are on the verge of bankruptcy, have proposed major economic changes, including an increase in the percentage of shared local revenue from 20 percent to 50 percent and a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million.
Players think those plans would emulate a salary cap because they would drain a large amount of money from the high-revenue teams, which otherwise would spend it on players.
"It's safe to say that we as a union are definitely preparing ourselves for this situation," Florida player representative Charles Johnson said. That's all we can do is prepare ourselves and be ready in case we have to (strike).
"There are situations that have to get settled, there are agreements that have to get done. If it doesn't get done, baseball just doesn't function properly. We need this agreement for baseball to function properly. I hope everyone understand that. We can't just keep playing and playing and playing without an agreement."
Baltimore's Gary Matthews Jr. said players hadn't concluded whether they'd be better off with an early strike date or a late one.
"We'd have to sit down and talk amongst the teams and the members of the union," he said. "I can't say what I'm going to do. It's not about what I want, or wouldn't want. It's about what's best for us."
By Ronald Blum