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Talks between owners and players broke down with no resumption in negotiations expected until after the owners' meeting in Palm Beach, FL, this week. Both MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr and Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, the owners' chief negotiator, left Scottsdale, AZ, on Sunday. McMorris said, barring a "miracle," the season will open with replacements players. Fehr: "We're back to square one" (Mult., 3/6). THE NUMBERS: The two sides left with the following tax proposals on the table: The players propose a 25% luxury tax on payrolls above 133% of the average ($54M). The owners propose a 50% tax above the average ($40.6M). Management attorney Chuck O'Connor indicated one of the reasons owners were disappointed with the union's Saturday proposal was because of an ESPN report that it would place the threshold at $47M. O'Connor: "That would have not been a level of settlement for us, but it might have promoted negotiation" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 3/6). ENTER THE HARD-LINERS? A union source said the owners' last offer was a "clear sign" that the hard-liners had taken over: "All I can say is, there weren't many centrists in Scottsdale" (Jayson Stark, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/6). Those on the players' side believe that White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf and Tribune Co. attorney Robert Ballow "have already assumed command of the owners' bargaining strategy" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/6). The future of McMorris and O'Connor as head and lead counsel of the owners' negotiating team will be discussed at Palm Beach, "with some owners believed to favor a change" to Reinsdorf and Ballow (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/6). Reinsdorf continues to claim he has no interest in taking over (L.A. TIMES, 3/5). O'Connor addressed a possible switch, saying that if the owners went with Reinsdorf, he and Ballow "probably would be the right combination." While O'Connor said his approach is to focus on negotiation, Ballow's strength is "keeping employers running with replacement workers." Reinsdorf said he wished he had the influence attributed to him by the union, but that acting Commissioner Bud Selig is "the only one who has power" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/5). One management source, on Reinsdorf and Ballow taking the lead role: "That's not going to happen" (Tom Keegan, N.Y. POST, 3/5). WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Agent Tom Reich: "Huge pressure is building on both sides: for the players, starting to miss more big paydays, for the owners, the replacement-player scam failing miserably and the huge potential legal damages to be paid becoming clearer." Reich predicted an "arduous journey" to a negotiated settlement (John Helyar, WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/6). In Philadelphia, Jayson Stark outlines the NLRB scenario for ending the strike: The NLRB rules against the owners on Tuesday or Wednesday; the court upholds the ruling on Friday or the following Monday; the players end the strike; the owners meet to vote on whether to lock the players out. The owners would need 21 votes to impose a lockout, and Stark cites "many baseball people" who don't believe that they have the votes (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/5). But USA TODAY's Hal Bodley lists six owners -- Reinsdorf, Florida's Huizenga, Seattle's Ellis, Minnesota's Pohlad, Houston's McLane and Kansas City's Glass -- "who want the players to stay out forever" (USA TODAY, 3/6). Reinsdorf, claiming the union is prepared to wait for the NLRB's ruling: "We'll deal with it if and when it happens" (Bob Verdi, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/6). In New York, Bill Madden reports owners don't expect Fehr to "start negotiating seriously until the real pressure point -- April 15 -- draws near." That is when players miss their first paychecks, and is also tax day (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/5). ANY SIGNS OF HOPE? ESPN's Peter Gammons: "The two sides are still 10,000 light years from home, but it's a start" ("SportsCenter," 3/4). Peter Schmuck: "The luxury tax remains the overriding issue in the negotiations, and despite the reservations of the union -- both sides finally are on the same wavelength" (Baltimore SUN, 3/5). O'Connor: "These breaks can be viewed as a cause for great alarm or a cause for reflection and opportunity" (L.A. TIMES, 3/6). OTHER NEWS & NOTES: A nationwide poll conducted by Michigan pollster EPIC/MRA (1,000 people surveyed from February 20-24; margin of error +/- 3%) found that of the 59% who said they attended a baseball game last year, 43% said they won't go to replacement games (EPIC/MRA)....The union is considering filing another unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB over the issue of inducements to minor-leaguers to play in spring games (WASHINGTON POST, 3/5).
BOSTON: Red Sox announcer Sean McDonough has "no qualms" about calling replacement games: "I doubt if the Players Association ever honored anyone else's strike -- like the umpires' -- so why would anyone honor theirs?" (Jim Baker, BOSTON HERALD, 3/3). BALTIMORE: Sports law specialists agree that Orioles Owner Peter Angelos should strike first in a potential legal battle over the use of replacement players by seeking a declaratory judgment that would forbid the AL from forcing him to use strikebreakers during the regular season (Brad Snyder, Baltimore SUN, 3/4). In NEWSWEEK, Mark Starr notes that minor leaguers and other players hold Angelos "in high respect" for his position (NEWSWEEK, 3/13 issue). But Peter Gammons calls Angelos the "biggest phony in the equation": "If Angelos had been willing to put in the time of a John Harrington or a Jerry McMorris, he could have protected his investment better" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/5). FLORIDA: Marlins Owner Wayne Huizenga said he would rather not have the players back without a labor agreement in place: "What's to think we will make any progress if the players come back to work?" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/4). NEW YORK: New York sponsors "aren't buying" replacement ball. WFAN VP & GM Joel Hollander: "All hell will break loose at the end of the month if replacements are still playing." Meanwhile, local Midas Mufflers dealers will not purchase time for either NYC teams' replacement games. Chemical Bank, which spent $1M on spots during Mets games last year is negotiating with the team over a new agreement. Chemical Exec VP Charles McCabe: "The only formula to renegotiate our costs is based on lower attendance and the cost of tickets" (Richard Sandomir, N.Y. TIMES, 3/6)....Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner wants to know if "his front office was informed fairly" about the rules on replacements (Jeff Bradley, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/4). PHILADELPHIA: The Phillies are planning to feature the 25th anniversary of Veterans Stadium as part of their ad campaign -- "strike or no strike." The ads will highlight memorable moments in the stadium's history (Dave Caldwell, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/5). TEXAS: Rangers GM Doug Melvin had a warning for any free agents interested in signing with the team after the strike ends. Melvin will question players about their attitudes toward the strike, and anybody "bent on making trouble for players who appeared in exhibition games will not be welcome in Texas" (FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/4).
Bruce Frey, a Chicago real estate investor, is competing with Jackson, MS, to make Miami the new home of the Las Vegas Posse, according to the MIAMI HERALD. Frey, who has twice tried to buy the Dolphins, has met with officials from the city about playing in the Orange Bowl. Reports out of Las Vegas say current Posse owners are asking $2.5M for controlling interest (MIAMI HERALD, 3/4). According to AP, CFL sources say the team would be called the Manatees and a portion of profits would go toward protecting the endangered sea mammal (Baltimore SUN, 3/4). ....Lawyers representing Chicago restauranteur Horn Chen met with Rough Riders President Phil Kershaw this weekend to go over the financial state of the team. Chen would keep the team in Ottawa (Don Campbell, OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/6)....CFL Commissioner Larry Smith blamed the NHL lockout on the disastrous finances of the Riders and their owner -- former Senators Owner Bruce Firestone (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/4).... Former CFL-player Mike Wadsworth, who takes over as Notre Dame A.D. on April 1, "feels the CFL is in its death throes." Wadsworth thinks it "would be better for three or four Canadian cities to join the NFL and let the rest of the league fold" (Rick Matsumoto, TORONTO STAR, 3/3).
Japan and South Korea were the only two countries to present World Cup bids to FIFA by Tuesday's confirmation deadline, and it "now seems certain that an Asian country will host the 2002 World Cup." The Games have never been held outside of Europe and the Americas. Mexico, which had been in the running since December, failed to present a bid. Japan, "which began working on its bid in 1986, appears to be the front runner. A decision on 2002 will be announced in June '96 (John Haydon, WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/5). OTHER SOCCER NOTES: Tampa Bay will be home to three area pro soccer teams. The city will have a MLS team, a NPSL franchise, and last week the city was awarded U.S. International Soccer League franchise. Some question whether three teams are too much for the area (Bill Ward, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/5)....Despite an "aggressive marketing plan, the Atlanta Ruckus is danger of folding before it plays a game." Ruckus Owner Sam Chase failed to post a $100,000 letter of credit with the APSL by the March 1 deadline, "forcing the league to begin the process of revoking his franchise." A local sports marketing firm, Atlanta Management Services, is "spearheading a drive to find new investors" (Doug Cress, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/5).
MLB owners will be asked to pick two expansion cities for 1998 and to set a price for the team when they meet in Palm Beach this week. Representatives from each group vying for a franchise -- Orlando, Tampa/St. Pete, Phoenix, and two bids from Northern VA -- will give a half-hour presentation on Tuesday afternoon. The expansion committee "will meet jointly with the executive council to make its recommendation." A final decision could come Thursday after the owners debates the matter. Tampa/St. Petersburg and Phoenix are the favorites to be awarded expansion teams to begin play in '98, and the committee could also recommend "a second wave of expansion that would start no earlier than the year 2000" (Bill Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/4). But, the "call for new presentations would seem to indicate that no final decision has been made yet on where to expand and when" (Thom Loverro, WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/3). BOOST FOR ORLANDO? Prospective Orlando owner Norton Herrick received written assurances from two Florida officials, Attorney General Bob Butterworth and U.S. Senator Connie Mack, that they aren't pulling for St. Petersburg over Orlando in the two cities' bids for expansion. Herrick called the letters "significant" since it "debunked" the perception Tampa Bay is "owed a team and has the legal and lawmaking muscle of several high-powered politicians behind it" (Lebowitz & Tracy, ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/4).
The legitimacy of the NFL's salary cap is examined by the BOSTON GLOBE's Will McDonough. The league does have a cap, "but, in reality, in name only." Bills Owner Ralph Wilson said the cap "is becoming a joke, and it's the owners fault. No one else's. Don't blame the players. Don't blame the agents. Blame us. We're the ones ruining the system." McDonough writes that teams are sitting down with agents and working out ways to beat the cap through loopholes. Last year, the cap was put at $34.6M per team, but the NFLPA reports an average payroll of $39M per club. According to NFLPA "accounting, 17 teams were over the cap in 1994." McDonough notes two problems that could occur from teams subverting the cap: Smaller-market clubs won't have the financial resources to compete with teams with great stadium deals, and possible "outrageous deals" when the current CBA expires in '99. A complete list of team payrolls is listed for 1994, according to the NFLPA. In addition to these totals, each team had to pay $4.4M in player benefits (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/5):
Redskins$42,885 Chargers$35,951 Vikings$34,046 Cardinals$42,257 Packers$35,853 Rams$33,774 Seahawks$40,815 49ers$35,386 Dolphins$32,877 Patriots$38,856 Jets$35,303 Broncos$31,397 Lions$38,543 Falcons$35,219 Cowboys$31,389 Colts$38,406 Browns$35,056 Bengals$31,194 Chiefs$38,180 Eagles$34,788 Steelers$31,105 Saints$37,363 Giants$34,416 Bucs$31,104 Oilers$37,103 Bears$34,363 Raiders$37,004 Bills$34,29
THE MAN FROM TROY: Cowboys QB Troy Aikman, growing upset about the loss of some teammates to free agency, said the salary cap is the reason why the team isn't staying together. Aikman said Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones "is doing everything he can to keep this going. ... Jerry would have kept the players that gave us the best shot at winning, if it wasn't for the cap." Aikman also "took a poke" at the NFLPA, "saying most players are probably making the same salaries they would be making under a non-cap system" (Mike Fisher, FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/6). RUN THAT AGAIN: NFL owners will consider two versions of the instant replay system at their winter meetings in March. One idea is to use the same system that was rejected in '92, but only in the playoffs. The other proposal is an adaptation of the USFL rules, with each team having three "challenges for each half" (Gordon Forbes, USA TODAY, 3/6).