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"If baseball has a chance of settling its labor strike, the groundwork will have to be laid in Atlanta this week," writes I.J. Rosenberg in Sunday's ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The players meet at the Westin Peachtree Plaza today through Wednesday, where they are expected to put together a counterproposal to the owners' payroll tax plan. Braves Player Rep Tom Glavine: "I'm not saying we're going to come out of our meeting with a proposal that is just going to knock their socks off and they are going to accept it as it is. But hopefully we can come out of our meetings with a proposal that has the basis to which we can start negotiating a deal that is fair for both sides" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/4). No "breakthroughs" are expected, but the object of the union leadership may be to disarm militant owners and keep the negotiations alive" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 12/5). Special mediator W.J. Usery meets with players tomorrow (USA TODAY, 12/5). PLAYER UNITY: In Chicago, Jerome Holtzman examines the lack of public breaks in the union: "Despite the fact that many players are unhappy with the stalemated negotiations --possibly as high as 30 percent of them -- they have remained silent." Holtzman reports that he has received a "half-dozen calls from baseball insiders -- umpires, general managers and agents -- all of whom insist many of the players, particularly the big-name stars, are in various stages of rebellion" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/4). THE FIRST CRACK: Expos pitcher Denis Boucher said he would cross the picket line: "I'm not a roster player. I have a wife and a little girl, and I'd be making a lot more money if I was playing in the majors." Boucher is a free agent who expects to sign a minor-league contract with the Expos in the next few weeks (CP/Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/5). ECONOMICS: Peter Gammons examines possible changes in his Sunday column: "It appears any settlement will trade arbitration for four-year free agency" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/4). AP's Chris Sheridan reports at least ten teams would reduce ticket prices if replacement players are used in '95: Orioles, Red Sox, White Sox, Royals, Brewers, Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Pirates and Giants (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/04). Under "Baseball's Hardest Sell," NEWSWEEK examines some of the different promotions teams have created to sell their season tickets (NEWSWEEK, 12/12 issue). One club president on selling TV/radio ads: "We can't ask sponsors to belly up to the bar for replacement players, and we can't ask them to hold their money much longer" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/4). MITCHELL: In an interview on "John McLaughlin's One on One," retiring Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was asked about becoming MLB Commissioner: "The answer is that no offer has been made to me. The baseball people are occupied now in their negotiations between the owners and the players, which I hope they settle soon. Several owners have contacted me and urged me to consider it, and what I've said to them is that if and when an offer is made, I will consider it" ("One on One," 12/4).
With NHL labor negotiations set to resume in Chicago today, salary arbitration, a rookie salary cap and free agency will again be "front and center." Talks broke off on Friday with both sides claiming there was little middle ground to discuss (CANADIAN PRESS/Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/5). NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Ops Brian Burke: "The calendar is coming at us like a freight train, and at some point it's not going to be possible to have a season. And hopefully that's going to add some pressure to the talks from both sides" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/2). WHAT'S THERE TO TALK ABOUT? In Toronto, Gare Joyce writes, "The players can take some hollow satisfaction from a single significant victory in these talks. They will likely walk away from these negotiations with unrestricted free agency at age 28." But "victories" on arbitration, two-way contracts and a rookie cap, the owners "have to feel satisfied with the direction of the talks. But is it the agreement they want?" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/5). In Philadelphia, Gary Miles notes that the league's top players are opposed to the owners' "franchise player" proposal -- reportedly agreed to by the union. "Whether this issue will splinter the union will be interesting to see in the critical days ahead" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/4). One "prominent" agent: "I hate the position Goodenow is in. If I were the owners, I'd jump at the offer the way it is now" (Stephen Harris, BOSTON HERALD, 12/5). WHAT'S TO BLAME FOR THE STALL? Many members of the NHL negotiating team accuse Goodenow of stalling intentionally. Some cite the Gretzky tour; others claim the union won't make any concessions "until the season is on the brink of being lost" (Bob McKenzie, TORONTO STAR, 12/3). One NHL source: "Our feeling is that Goodenow has led Gretzky to understand that no deal would be made until the tour is completed" (Red Fisher, MONTREAL GAZETTE, 12/3). Another unnamed NHL official: "Do you think the companies sponsoring the tour would make the deals they made without getting that assurance? Or would the CBC send people over without the same assurance? They sought, and got, Goodenow's assurance there would be no deal until they got back" (David Shoalts, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/3). THE TAX IS BACK? Agent Neil Abbott "said that based on what he had heard, there was a reason the talks broke off so abruptly." Abbott: "The (salary) cap is back (on the table). That's what happened [Friday], although no one will say it. It was intimated to me that it was." However, sources on both sides denied the tax was discussed (Nancy Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 12/3). And the CANADIAN PRESS also reports the owners' plan "remained on the shelf" (VANCOUVER SUN, 12/3). Goodenow: "If, in fact, the tax does come out, it will be very difficult to get a deal and to have a season" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/2). ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT IT: During "Weekend Update" on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," David Spade offered his view -- which was unsympathetic to players in both baseball and hockey. Spade: "But, guys, I do feel sorry for you, you haven't been able to play your road games so that means for the last eight months you've had to have sex with your own wives, and nobody wants that" ("SNL," NBC, 12/3).
"The essence of track and field's problems is that, at the national level, a federation created to run an amateur sport sanctions meets involving" pros. It is that fact that is leading many in the USA Track & FIeld leadership to "move toward a player-run meet circuit," according to Joe Drape of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. "Growing athlete activism was on display" at the USATF's annual convention in St. Louis last week. Mike Conley, a USATF board member who is at the "forefront of the union movement": "The future of track and field is in prize money. Right now, appearance fees are so hush-hush that the fans don't have a real idea of what it's about. And that takes away from the public appeal." Many USAFT members were upset with USATF Exec Dir Ollan Cassell for negotiating what they considered a "mediocre" TV deal for the indoor track circuit. Conley said a player-run pro circuit will be more attractive to sponsors: "If we as an organization go to a sponsor and say we'll promise you these top guys will compete, I believe they'd be glad to get rid of the middle man" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/4).
World Golf Tour Exec Dir John Montgomery Jr. said he contacted Greg Norman early Friday morning and asked him about a disputed conversation between what Norman and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem: "Greg was in shock as to what the context [of the commissioner's statement] was. We talked strictly about the release and he didn't feel it was reflective of their conversation." On Finchem's contention that Norman had "re-evaluated his commitment" to the World Tour, Montgomery said: "He's not stepping back. He's not re-evaluating. ... Just because he's out of the country for two weeks doesn't mean he's re-evaluating." Montgomery has set mid-January '95 as a tentative deadline to get the World Tour started (Glenn Sheeley, N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/3). IN THE GALLERY: In addition to the PGA Tour, another "interested observer" of Fox's planned World Golf Tour is Andersen Consulting -- the title sponsor of the World Championship of Golf set for next spring on ABC & ESPN. The two networks, in conjunction with International Sports & Entertainment Strategies (ISES), are seeking four "presenting sponsors" and five or six "official suppliers" for the int'l tournament (INSIDE MEDIA, 12/13 issue).