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"The search for answers in baseball's labor dispute apparently reached the desperate, last-gasp phase" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 12/22). The two sides did not meet face-to-face yesterday, but met at separate locations with Special Mediator William Usery. "The atmosphere was painfully similar to the dark circumstances that existed just before the players struck" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 12/22). Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris and MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr met Tuesday night and made "slight progress on some peripheral issues, but the obstacle that has separated them for the past six months was still firmly in place. Cost control" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 12/22). Fehr: "The gulf that separates us remains essentially what it once was" (N.Y. POST, 12/22). McMorris was unable to sell the players on a luxury tax (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 12/22). THE IMPASSE: With less than 24 hours to go until the owners deadline to declare an impasse, the owners "were insisting the only thing holding up progress was a proposal from the union." Blue Jay Paul Molitor hinted the players may present a proposal today. "But he was quick to say he doubted the move would lead to any last-minute breakthrough" (Joseph Reaves, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/22). Braves President Stan Kasten said owners are planning to implement a salary cap at 12:01am Friday: "This can't go on forever" (Baltimore SUN, 12/22). ESPN's Peter Gammons: "Each side is focusing on what is going to happen after implementation -- not focusing on a deal trying to prevent implementation" ("SportsCenter," 12/21). MLBPA Gen Counsel Gene Orza calls implementation "inevitable" (AP/Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/22). COMPLAINT DEPT.: The NLRB filed a 7-page complaint accusing the owners of unfair labor practices when they refused to make a $7.8M payment to the players' pension fund. A hearing before an administrative law judge in New York has been scheduled for March 14, 1995 (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 12/22). Orza, noting that the MLBPA will file an NLRB complaint if the owners impose their cap: "Once the NLRB issues a complaint, it's out of the union's hands. It will then become The People vs. Major League Baseball" (N.Y. POST, 12/22). Kasten: "If I'm 0-2 in exhibition games, it doesn't bother me. If I'm 0-2 in complaints filed, it doesn't bother me, either" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/22). THE EXEMPTION: ESPN's Bob Sirkin reported that a couple of the players met with soon-to-be House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Atlanta. Gingrich says that he has the support of Braves Owner Ted Turner in revoking MLB's antitrust exemption status. Sirkin: "The players have long said they would end their strike the moment the anti-trust exemption is lifted" ("SportsCenter," 12/21). Sports attorney and writer Lester Munson: "I don't really see how there can be a settlement now unless the owners have actually realized how appalling the idea of replacement players are in spring training. Maybe the owners are also beginning to worry about the new Congress because they have a good chance of losing their anti-trust exemption when this new Republican Congress comes in" ("Market Wrap," CNBC, 12/21).
After a meeting of more than 200 members of the NHLPA, players emerged unanimous in their belief that there will be no deal unless the owners drop their luxury tax demand. IS THE TAX OFF THE TABLE? ESPN's Jimmy Roberts, noting reports that there have been discussions on a plan that does not include a tax: "It would be big news -- if it were true." NHLPA President Mike Gartner: "Everything that I've seen has a tax involved in it" ("SportsCenter," 12/21). Despite public denials from both sides, the reports of a no-tax plan continue this morning. But one league official confirmed to the N.Y. TIMES that such discussions "took place on a conceptual level without an official proposal being formulated." That official added that the league "remains willing to continue to discuss a settlement without a tax because the league thinks it is important 'not to draw a line in the sand and paint ourselves into corners'" (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 12/22). Another management source told the BOSTON GLOBE that a plan without a tax "would've been discussed in purely hypothetical terms and likely would've been broached by those 'most moderate.'" Bruins President & GM Harry Sinden called the reports "absolute and total fiction" (Nancy Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 12/22). One NHL Governor puts odds of a deal at 50-50 and said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "has to come up with a proposal that does the same thing as a tax but can still be sold to a majority of the owners" (Dave Fuller, TORONTO SUN, 12/22). WHAT IF IT IS? Sources told the TORONTO STAR "that the possibility of a deal without a tax exists if the union will make other concessions that will provide an appropriate 'drag' on salaries. Those concessions, the source cautioned, would have to be significant enough that the league's board of governors wouldn't be fractured by the those hardline governors still in search of a tax" (Cox & Hunter, TORONTO STAR, 12/22). The CANADIAN PRESS' Alan Adams reports that the players "are willing to move on salary arbitration as a way of saving the season." But NHLPA attorney Bob Riley said the union wouldn't surrender arbitration completely. Riley: "When we speak about the importance of the needs of our middle class, we are obviously speaking of the need of salary arbitration" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/22). NHLPA VP Ken Baumgartner: "We're prepared to negotiate but we're not willing to give away arbitration for a tax the owners never possessed but only asked for" (Gare Joyce, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/22). THE OLD BAIT-AND-SWITCH? In New York, Larry Brooks writes the only question facing Bettman and the owners is: "How one- sided a victory do they need to score over the players in order to open the '1995-95' season?" It was clear from the union's meeting that the players are "willing to concede, concede, concede on virtually every freedom and systems issue imaginable in order to avoid negotiating a tax" (N.Y. POST, 12/22). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher asks, "Will [Bettman] try to grab just a little more early next week and then declare it enough and let the game proceed? Or, must he insist on the grand slam homer and take the game away?" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/22).