Players' union sets Aug. 30 strike datePosted: Friday August 16, 2002 12:05 PM
Updated: Sunday August 18, 2002 4:03 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Just two weeks remain for baseball to save its season and perhaps even its status as the national pastime.
Players set an Aug. 30 strike date Friday, moving the sport closer to its ninth work stoppage in three decades and angering fans sick of money squabbles.
The executive board of the players' association voted 57-0 for the deadline, just four days after raising hopes for a deal by delaying a decision.
Players were upset by management's lack of movement on the key issue of a luxury tax on high-payroll teams, but owners accused the union of refusing to agree to more compromises.
"The baseball owners and baseball players must understand if there is a work stoppage, a lot of fans are going to be furious, and I'm one of them," said President Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers.
Players are reluctant to have rules that would reduce salary increases. They argue the luxury tax, when combined with additional revenue sharing, would act as a salary cap.
"Clearly, the luxury tax is a major obstacle that has to be resolved before we're going to get an agreement," union head Donald Fehr said. "I think an agreement can be reached."
Baseball has a perfect record in labor talks, with eight stoppages in eight negotiations since 1972. The disruptions were caused primarily by management's attempts to slow salaries in the free-agent era, which began in 1976.
The last strike began Aug. 12, 1994, dragged on for 232 days and wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Average attendance dropped 20 percent the following season and still hasn't fully recovered.
"It's ridiculous," Brian Orndoff, a 24-year-old locksmith, said at Baltimore's Camden Yards. "Most of the players make over $1 million a year. School teachers make it on 30 grand. What do they have to complain about? If they get what they want, ticket prices will go up. I'm not paying to watch million-dollar crybabies."
The sport generated $3.5 billion in revenue in 2001, and the average salary rose to a record $2.38 million at the start of this season.
The last contract expired Nov. 7, and owners chose not to lock out the players after the World Series or before this season. Players fear owners would lock them out or change work rules if this season ends without a deal, and the union would rather threaten a strike heading into the final stages of playoff races, when the owners have more money to lose.
Chicago Cubs chief executive officer Andy MacPhail called the union's decision "regrettable," and Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, was "disappointed." Commissioner Bud Selig did not comment.
"If you take a step back, it seems to me there's been considerable progress made," MacPhail said. "It seems to me we have one more hurdle to overcome."
If players walk out on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and the season is not completed, they would lose 16.9 percent of their base salaries. Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez stands to lose the most, nearly $3.6 million of his $21 million salary this year. A player at the $200,000 minimum would lose about $34,000.
"The average fan has already gone to other sports: soccer, golf and hockey," Rodriguez said. "That's sad. I just want to see us stop losing our fans."
A strike would take valuable time away from 38-year-old Barry Bonds, who just hit career homer No. 600 and needs another 156 to break Hank Aaron's record.
The walkout also would spoil a dream season for the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins, a team baseball wanted to fold over the winter but is now headed for its first postseason appearance since 1991.
The St. Louis Cardinals' game at the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 30 would be the first affected by a strike. Fourteen games are scheduled for that night.
Players don't want to go on strike, especially because of the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
"September 11 is a huge issue," Minnesota's Denny Hocking said. "If there is no baseball on 9-11, it would be a slap in the face to all those people who went through 9-11 firsthand."
Arizona's Mark Grace hopes "owners will realize that, 'Gosh, the players have given a lot.'
"If nothing gets done," he said, "I think that means owners don't want to get something done."
Management disputed that assessment, saying it was willing to bargain and the union walked away from talks Thursday.
"We made the last proposal. They said no more proposals. They set a strike date," DuPuy said.
In their latest proposal, owners asked for a 50 percent tax on the portions of payrolls over $102 million next year (including 40-man rosters and benefits), a level that six or seven teams will be above this year. They believe that tax would increase competitive balance.
The union, according to management, offered a tax that would start at $130 million next year, $140 million in 2004 and $150 million in 2005. This year, only the New York Yankees are above $130 million.
The sides have agreed that all players must be tested each year for illegal steroids, but not for nutritional supplements like the testosterone-booster androstenedione and "recreational" drugs like cocaine.
They also agreed to send the issue of a worldwide amateur draft to a study committee. Owners withdrew their plan to withhold the salaries of players suspended for on-field misconduct.