As expected, baseball's players voted yesterday to end the 7
1/2-month strike should U.S. District Judge Sonja Sotomayor
grants an injunction restoring the previous economic system. But
while "the best chance for the strike ending soon seems to be
through the injunction process," the players will make a counter-
offer to the owners' latest proposal. In Washington, Mark Maske
refers to the talks as "virtually a one-issue dispute" -- the
luxury tax. Possible "stumbling blocks" include a phase-in
period and a "sunset provision," by which any new tax would
expire after three years. In fact, MLBPA General Counsel Gene
Orza says: "There are some people who believe the sunset is more
important than the tax itself" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/30).
BACK TO THE TABLE: Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig
returns to New York today. Asked if the owners' proposal is,
indeed, their final offer: "I was as sincere as I could be when
I said the clubs had stretched as far as they could in making
that proposal, but let's see how the union responds" (Ross
Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/30). Orza: "We're definitely on the same
planet. We're even on the same continent." But in Philadelphia,
Jayson Stark adds, "It's still a long way to the same zip code."
The union counter-proposal is expected to contain a 30% tax on
payrolls exceeding $49M. Also, the union "reacted very
positively" to the owners' offer to maintain the current free
agency/ arbitration system. The union has the option to trade it
for unrestricted free agency after four years -- "but it seems to
be leaning against that option" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/30).
In Denver, Tracy Ringolsby notes "growing unrest among players
and agents over the union's failure to react quickly." Blue Jays
Player Rep Paul Molitor: "The owners' offer warrants a
counterproposal. We're too low and they're too high" (ROCKY
MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/30).
GREAT LOCKOUT DEBATE: Most reports echo yesterday's N.Y.
TIMES report that the owners are unlikely to vote for a lockout
should the players return under an injunction. But ESPN's Peter
Gammons said that Selig told him the owners will worry about a
lockout vote "after the injunction." Still, Selig is confident
that -- with the exception of the two New York teams, the
Dodgers, Blue Jays and Orioles -- "basically everyone will go
along with the lockout if that's what they think they need to
do." Gammons said the Tigers, Indians and Marlins, all
reportedly leaning against, will vote yes ("Baseball Tonight,"
3/29). One union official: "They won't lock out. I wish they
would, because we'd have a great time calculating the (legal)
damages" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/30). In New York,
Murray Chass reports that Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner "has
spearheaded" the anti-lockout movement (N.Y. TIMES, 3/30).
SEE YOU IN COURT, COUNSELOR: Gammons, on the likelihood of
an injunction: "From the players standpoint, they think it's a
slam dunk" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/29). But Clark Griffith, a
former Twins exec who has argued before Sotomayor, believes the
judge won't issue an injunction: "There has been no irreparable
harm. It just isn't there" (Jerome Holtzman, CHICAGO TRIBUNE,
3/30). Management's lawyers filed their brief yesterday, in which
they argued that the union's offer to end the strike "should have
absolutely no bearing" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/30).
REPLACEMENT HELL: In Boston, Larry Whiteside notes "growing
concern among the ownership group that replacement ball would be
a financial and historic disaster" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/30). Gammons
says that the start of replacement games would "absolutely going
to lead to a war." The union feels that the players "will never
forgive" owners for using replacements, "that there's absolutely
no way they can form a partnership" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN,
QUOTE BOARD: Yankees pitcher Steve Howe now says that he
won't cross the line. Howe to the N.Y. POST: "I've been able to
take a better look at the issues" (Joel Sherman, N.Y. POST,
3/30)....Former Expos pitcher Dennis Boucher, presently in the
minor leagues, said the team hasn't asked him to cross, but if
they do, "there has to be some incentive." Boucher is seeking
$150,000 guaranteed to pitch the Expos' opener (OTTAWA CITIZEN,
3/30)....Dodgers Exec VP Fred Claire left camp in Vero Beach, but
without any luggage. Claire: "I left my clothes here, because I
know I'll be back" (Bob Nightengale, L.A. TIMES, 3/30)....Expos
GM Kevin Malone: "I'm not optimistic because I had to look at
Donald Fehr on TV last night, and I did feel nauseous to a
degree. Not just from looking at him but thinking about what
he's done" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN, 3/29)....Selig has a letter
to fans in a full-page USA TODAY ad: "We believe the clubs'
offer goes a long way toward reaching our principal goal:
keeping the Game affordable, accessible, and competitive for
years to come" (USA TODAY, 3/30).