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MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner each met yesterday for about 45 minutes with the Baseball Writers Association of America prior to the All-Star Game in Phoenix. While each praised the professional and constructive nature of ongoing labor talks, the two sessions signaled several key unresolved issues. Perhaps most pointedly, Selig again lobbied strong support for the creation of a hard slotting system for draft pick compensation, believing such a move would enhance the draft's key purpose as a competitive balance tool. But Weiner said, "It is not this union's job to take away individual bargaining rights." The topic will likely be among the thornier issues going forward. Formal CBA negotiations have been happening at least weekly since the beginning of the regular season. The current five-year labor accord expires in December. Even with numerous issues still unresolved, both sides said they are aiming to maintain the sport's 16-year run of labor peace, particularly as the NFL and NBA each have current work stoppages. "The opportunity [to maintain labor peace] is something both sides recognize," Weiner said (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
SUNNY SKIES IN THE FORECAST: In Philadelphia, Paul Hagen notes Weiner yesterday "painted a picture of a sport that has largely moved beyond the sort of intransigent bargaining that occurred in previous years." He said, "The relationship is professional and the relationship is constructive. What that means is there are open lines of communication. There is mutual respect. We won't miss a deal because of lack of communication or personal animosity." Weiner added, "I don't think there's a direct impact on the player's side to what's happening in the other sports" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 7/13). With the NFL and NBA both in lockouts, Selig said that MLB "has never been healthier or more popular, a good reason not to shut it down for any reason." Selig pointed to MLB's "increased parity, a result of the changing of the game's economic system." He said, "I really believe we have more competition than we've ever had. We've had some great surprises in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Arizona. All of our economic barometers are very strong. People say baseball isn't what it used to be, but that's just sheer nonsense" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 7/13). In Chicago, Phil Rogers notes it "will be a major surprise if the ongoing talks lead to a strike or a work stoppage." But Weiner stressed that the "productive tone in the early stages of negotiations doesn't mean an easily reached agreement can be taken 'for granted'" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/13).
COVERING THE BASES: Selig, as he has been for months, was bullish on a 10-team playoff format. Additionally, he said having the two wild card teams in each league play a one-game playoff before the divisional round is garnering a surprising amount of support around the league. Weiner said the players also favor enlarged playoffs, making it a near-certainty to occur, perhaps as soon as next year (Fisher). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff reports there have been "intra-industry discussions about whether the extra playoff round should be a one-and-done or a best two-of-three." Many in baseball "like the excitement that a single, winner-take-all contest would bring" (NEWSDAY, 7/13). While the sides both are in favor of playoff expansion, the WASHINGTON POST's Dave Sheinin notes they "differed fundamentally Tuesday on some basic issues, most notably the draft -- which is widely viewed as the most significant bargaining issue of these negotiations." Selig reiterated management’s "preference for a hard 'slotting' system for draft-pick bonuses and the expansion of the draft to include international players," while Weiner reiterated the union's "stance against either" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/13). Meanwhile, Selig yesterday said that MLB "will soon announce an expansion of instant replay." In addition to "determining home runs, replay is expected to be used to decide whether balls are fair or foul" (USA TODAY, 7/13). Asked what enhanced replay will look like, Selig said, "I'll wait until we're finally ready to announce it, but with, say, bullets hit down the left- and right-field lines, managers like replay on that. So things like that" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 7/13).
NO CHANGE IN FOUL BALL POLICY: In Dallas, Gerry Fraley reports Selig is "saddened by the recent tragic accident involving a spectator at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, but he will not ask players to stop throwing baseballs into the seats." Yesterday, Selig cited a CNN survey in which 88% of respondents said that players "should continue with the fan-friendly gesture." He also stressed that his office wants to "increase interaction between players and spectators." Selig: "It was a horrible accident, heartbreaking. Common sense should always take over in these situations. To say, ‘No, we shouldn’t do that,’ I wouldn’t say that. Absolutely not" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/13).
ALSO ON SELIG'S MIND: A strong recent run of attendance, fueled by the last leg of '11 interleague play, has brought the league essentially even with last year's pace after a very soggy spring. With better weather and strong presales for games ahead, Selig echoed his preseason prediction of a full-season increase to end three straight seasons of declines. Meanwhile, Selig again said he plans to retire after his current contract expires at the end of '12, saying his decision is "firm." Few close to the commissioner, however, expect him to actually leave at that point (Fisher).
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig yesterday said "massive realignment" is not "on the horizon," according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. Selig admitted that "there are 'things I'd like to accomplish' that only realignment can provide -- such as evening out the number of teams in all six divisions and making the schedule for competing teams more fair." However, he also "reiterated his longstanding reservations over having interleague play throughout the season, an inevitable consequence of going to 15 teams in each league." Selig: "I like it the way it is." But he conceded that he "might be willing to soften that opposition if he could achieve larger objectives." Selig: "Would I go to 15 and 15? I don't know. It would depend on how everything else broke out and what we were trying to do" (ESPN.com, 7/12). MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner yesterday said the players are strongly in favor of a realignment to two 15-team leagues, which would mean one NL club would switch to the AL. Citing "undeniable positives" to the move, Weiner said such a realignment would create a fairer landscape for teams with regard to playoff qualification. While Selig is in favor of some realignment, he took a more cautious tone, saying the issue is being actively studied, with no move "imminent." No realignment is likely before '13, as a draft of the '12 MLB regular season schedule has already been distributed to various parties such as the union and TV partners. Should two 15-team leagues be created, the Astros or D'Backs would be the foremost candidates to move to the AL (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
READY TO MAKE THE MOVE? Outgoing Astros Owner Drayton McLane last night denied an online report about the future of the team, saying that the Astros "are not and have not been involved in any discussions to move" to the AL. The report claims "one of the conditions of the Astros’ pending $680 million sale to Jim Crane is accepting a move to the AL West to create a 15-15 configuration." But McLane characterized that scenario as “totally inaccurate." He said, “None of that has ever, ever been discussed with us.” He added, "If that were part of the deal, that certainly would have emerged. ... We’ve been a National League team for 49 years. I think it would not be good for the franchise to change to the American League West" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/13). In the original report, FOXSPORTSARIZONA.com's Jack Magruder cited two sources as saying that the D'Backs "have been told they will not be asked to move to the American League under the current major league realignment plan that is being discussed." Moving the Astros "would be the easiest solution to the lack of balance in the leagues," and also would "create a natural Texas-Houston division rivalry, which already is a big seller in interleague play" (FOXSPORTSARIZONA.com, 7/12). Meanwhile, Selig said of the initial realignment report from last month, "The story that ran was not only premature, I'm not even sure where it came from. I believe in geographical realignment. I believe in a lot of other things, but there are many details to work out" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/13).
Yankees SS Derek Jeter's absence from this week's All-Star festivities, despite his being voted in as a starter, has been a major topic of discussion, but MLB Commissioner Bud Selig yesterday said he understood Jeter's desire to rest and is not troubled by the decision. "There isn't a player that I'm more proud of in the last 15 years than Derek Jeter," Selig said. "He's played the game the way it should be played. He's an even greater human being off the field. I think I would have made the same decision that Derek Jeter had" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). He added, "I know Derek has been under a lot of pressure. I just can never quarrel with him because he's been so good. ... He comes to the office. He does stuff for Major League Baseball. He knows his own physical condition, so I just can't argue with him" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/13). In N.Y., Mark Feinsand notes Jeter was "one of only five players who didn't show up for the festivities in the desert, four of those players coming from the Yankees." 3B Alex Rodriguez was "recovering from Monday's knee surgery," while Ps Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia "opted not to fly across the country." Rivera "battled soreness in his right triceps last week, while Sabathia was ineligible to pitch after starting Sunday's game." The only non-Yankee not at last night's All-Star Game was Braves 3B Chipper Jones, "who was also recovering from knee surgery." Selig was "satisfied with the reasons given by all of the no-shows, saying he would have made an issue of it had he thought there was 'a real indiscretion' with their decisions." Selig: "Seventy-nine out of 84 are here, including all the injured players that wanted to be here. That doesn't indicate to me that people don't want to play and don't want to be here" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/13).
DISAPPOINTED WITH NO-SHOW: Fox’ Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during last night's All-Star Game discussed the players who did not attend the event, and McCarver said, “With Derek Jeter, with that celebration at Yankee Stadium, the home run for his 3,000 hit on Saturday, I was hopeful -- and I think a lot of baseball fans feel that way -- hopeful that Jeter had shown up here so the celebration could be a national celebration instead of just a local, New York celebration” (“MLB All-Star Game,” Fox, 7/12). Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard said it was “wrong” for Jeter not to attend the game, but added, “I agree it’s also his right, because if you don’t want it to be optional don’t make it optional.” However, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said, "He should be forced to be there” (“PTI,” ESPN, 7/12). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, "Baseball has to take a stand and make this game important or it’s becoming completely irrelevant" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/12). But ESPN's Tim Kurkjian said, "In some cases there’s no way around this. Baseball just has to understand that some guys are going to get hurt, some guys are going to value their health for the second half more importantly than they’re going to value the All-Star Game" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 7/12).
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS: In K.C., Martin Manley wrote "unless something is done," the issue of player defections from the All-Star Game "will likely get worse and worse." MLB could "move the game back a day to Wednesday," or it could tell "all players that are selected or invited that they are expected to attend the game even if they don't attend any of the other events" (KANSASCITY.com, 7/12). In Detroit, Drew Sharp writes under the header, "Without Best Pitchers, This All-Star Game Strikes Out." MLB "should ditch the 'Sunday Rule' that prohibits starting pitchers from participating in the All-Star Game if they started two days earlier." Sharp writes he understands the intent behind it, but MLB instead should "limit those guys to one batter." MLB "has blown a great promotional opportunity," as they "overtweaked the parameters of the All-Star Game to the point of rendering it virtually useless" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/13).
Steelers LB James Harrison calls NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a "'crook' and a 'devil,' among other insults," in the August issue of Men's Health, according to the AP. Harrison also says of Goodell in the magazine, which hits newstands Friday, "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and will never respect him." Harrison's other descriptions of Goodell "include an anti-gay slur, 'stupid,' 'puppet' and 'dictator'" (AP, 7/13). ESPN’s Adam Schefter said, “They’re very strong comments. We’ve seen strong comments about Roger Goodell in the past. We saw Derrick Mason visit here and have some choice words for the commissioner. … It’s fair to say he’s universally disliked around the league right now by a lot of players. But there’s also a time and a place for comments like this, when negotiations are at a critical point as they are right now. These comments were given I’m sure weeks if not months ago, to Men’s Health. They’ve only been published right now and come to light right now, but they come out and it shines a spotlight, I think, on how some of the players perceive Roger Goodell and the circumstances surrounding this lockout.” With the status of league’s personal conduct policy in the air due to the lockout, Schefter noted, “I don’t know that James Harrison did anything wrong by saying some of the things he did. Where he may have a problem is with the anti-gay slur. That is an issue that could be something that the league addresses or the Pittsburgh Steelers address. … It also could come down to the fact that Roger Goodell wants to move on from anything that happened with comments about him during the lockout” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/13). Syndicated radio host Dan Patrick said, "That’s a helmet-to-helmet hit with the commissioner. ... His lockout may last a little bit longer than everybody else, I would imagine” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” 7/13).
REPAIR WORK NEEDED: CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote Goodell "will have to repair his image with a significant portion of his player base." Freeman: "It will be Goodell's most important post-lockout mission. He wasn't liked before the lockout by a number of players, who thought his disciplinary actions were far too draconian and his stances inflexible. Such opinions have only hardened." However, there are "1,900 players and a few expressing anger at Goodell doesn't mean that all are infuriated with the commissioner." Freeman: "It also has to be noted that in many ways Goodell has been extremely player-friendly during his tenure" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/12). ESPN’s Cris Carter said of Harrison's comments, "If you really slow him down and listen to it, he does say some things that are very, very important. I mean there is a double standard in the National Football League if you look at the owners and the commissioner trying to increase the length of the season to 18 games. Now that is not in the best interest of the National Football League or the health of the players. As far as his other comments, be very, very careful. You play in the National Football League right now, you are at the height of your career and you’re at the height of your earning potential" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 7/13).
BACK TO THE GRIND: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reports the “key players in the NFL labor dispute resume negotiations today with the parameters of a deal in place but still no headway on the primary lingering issue -- rookie salaries.” The NFL season “appears to hinge now on the sides coming to an agreement on how to structure a much-needed overhaul of the rookie pay scale.” The owners “want the top pick to get a maximum of $25 million over a five-year deal, while also stipulating that first-round picks can be signed for that long.” But sources said that the players “want all rookie contracts to be as little as three years with the possibility of a team option for a fourth season for high picks” (N.Y. POST, 7/13). ESPN's Schefter reported players are looking "beyond just the rookie wage scale as part of the total revenue package." Schefter: "Even though the two sides are in agreement on that right now, if the owners come back to the players with a different number on the rookie wage scale, that would affect the overall revenue and that’s why there is a dispute.” He added, "Both sides believe they’ve given in to the other side on all other major points and both sides feel like they don’t want to go any further, thus the standoff we have right now” (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 7/12). Meanwhile, NFL.com's Albert Breer reported legal teams and officials for NFL owners and players yesterday "met for a second consecutive day at a Manhattan law firm, setting the stage for the Wednesday arrival of the principals in the league's labor dispute." Sessions yesterday and Monday "were productive, as the parties worked to close out language for necessary elements of a potential deal to end the lockout." There were 12 participants, "including NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman and NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, in Tuesday's nine-hour-plus session" (NFL.com, 7/12).
SETTING THE STAGE: NFL.com's Steve Wyche cited officials from several teams as saying that they are "anticipating the near-immediate arrival of players at team facilities within hours of a new collective bargaining agreement being reached." It is "unknown if teams will be able to stage any type of minicamps or formal on-field workouts before training camps start," but teams are "prepared for players' arrivals." They want to "administer physicals as soon as possible, especially to players that have had offseason procedures performed by surgeons other than team physicians" (NFL.com, 7/12). However, YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole reported the cancellation of the Aug. 7 Bears-Rams Pro Football HOF Game is "looking more and more likely." A coach from one of the two teams said, "You get past a certain point and you can't play that game ... the way things are going right now, I don't think we're going to have the time to travel for an extra game." HOF VP/Communications & Exhibits Joe Horrigan said that there is "no way to change the date of the enshrinement festivities," which are scheduled to begin Aug. 6. He added, "The game, although no one has suggested it, could at least in theory be rescheduled, it just wouldn't be a part of the Enshrinement Festival per se. Again, there would be the issue of ticket sales -- refunding or offering the same tickets at a different date, etc. -- but at least in theory, I guess in the strictest sense [it] could be possible" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/12).
Escrow money withheld from all NBA players' paychecks each season "will be returned to them this offseason for the first time, providing a $160 million infusion of cash in the midst of the league's labor lockout," according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. The escrow funds, representing 8% of each NBA player's salary, are "held back each season to ensure that the players' share of basketball-related income does not exceed the contractually agreed-upon percentage," currently 57%. NBA and NBPA sources indicated that this year, "for the first time since the system was introduced in the collective bargaining agreement that came out of the 1998-99 lockout, the cut to players will fall short." When a "final audit is completed later this month, the players will have been paid less than 57 percent of BRI and will be due the entire $160 million." A union spokesperson confirmed that it is the "first time the players will have the full escrow returned" (NBA.com, 7/12). The AP's Brian Mahoney noted the escrow return "could strengthen the players' contention that an overhaul of the current financial system isn't needed and that owners can address their losses by controlled, smarter spending." The NBPA has argued that the "total value of negotiated salaries had decreased in recent years, so player costs weren't the problem" (AP, 7/12).
FALLOUT FROM THE LOCKOUT: In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell reports Bobcats radio play-by-play announcer Scott Lauer "has been laid off by the team, in what appears to be a cost-saving decision in the face of the NBA lockout." Lauer, who has been with the Bobcats throughout their seven-year existence, said that he "hopes to return to his job once the lockout ends and games resume." Lauer noted he was told his "position was eliminated" as part of an "organizational restructuring" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/13). The AP reported Lauer was "one of at least seven employees let go by the Bobcats in the past week." The Bobcats also parted ways with Dir of Corporate Communications Michael Thompson, Manager of Community Relations Kim Beal and "others in sales and business operations." A team spokesperson "confirmed fewer than 10 people were let go." In addition, a source indicated that the Pistons "fired 15 people two weeks ago" (AP, 7/12).
INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: In N.Y., Fred Kerber reports Amar'e Stoudemire is the "latest NBA stud to say he would consider going overseas in the event of a long NBA lockout," days after the Knicks F indicated that he would not. Stoudemire during an ESPN Radio appearance yesterday said, "It's not a definite thing that I'm not going to sign overseas." Also yesterday, Thunder F Kevin Durant said that he "would strongly consider playing overseas if there is no quick resolution to the league's labor situation" (N.Y. POST, 7/13). Durant said, "We'll see, I would like to try something new. But of course, my first option is playing in the NBA. So now I want to see how this lockout goes" (AP, 7/12). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, "I’m starting to wonder if all these players’ sponsors and their shoe people aren’t telling them, ‘You know what, let’s sell the product. Let’s get out there and go somewhere else’" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/12). Meanwhile, TRUEHOOP's Zach Harper noted Jazz F and Russia native Andrei Kirilenko reportedly is "offering his services to European teams for the low asking price" of $5.8M this winter (ESPN.com, 7/12).