With a players' counter-proposal on the table and one report
indicating that the start of the season could be delayed until
April 24, most media observers this morning are reserving
judgment on the possibility of a negotiated settlement until
after U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor rules on the NLRB's
request for an injunction.
INJUNCTION JUNCTION: Judge Sotomayor ruled that she would
allow no witnesses at this morning's proceedings. Although she
has not said when she would rule, "sources said she gave the
principals the distinct impression she would decide before Sunday
night's season opener -- probably tomorrow" (Jayson Stark,
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/31). "Both sides see Sotomayor's
decision as the point of critical mass that could shake loose the
impasse" (Larry Whiteside, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/31). ESPN's Peter
Gammons: "Whether or not [the players] get the injunction really
shifts the leverage in this thing. If the players get it and
they can threaten to come back, the owners are up against a real
gun" ("SportsCenter," 3/30).
REPLACEMENT VOTE: The owners voted 26-2 by phone to
authorize the use of replacement players, with only the Orioles
and Blue Jays dissenting. The Yankees' George Steinbrenner was
an original no vote, but changed in "a show of solidarity" (Mark
Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/31).
HARRINGTON'S TAKE: Red Sox CEO John Harrington put chances
for avoiding replacements at "50-50," but quickly added: "I'm
not talking about a settlement. I'm talking about the
possibility that there might be some agreement with regard to
playing the championship season with regular players."
Harrington also "hinted for the first time" that the owners might
abide by an injunction, even without further conditions.
Harrington: "If [Fehr] puts conditions on [ending the strike],
all we have to do is say no -- or we could negotiate on those
conditions." Harrington noted that beyond the injunction,
Sotomayor's options are limited. She could rule on arbitration
and central bargaining, and, according to Harrington, "under
those conditions, Donald would have to make an unconditional
offer. ... I just hope he's ready" (George Kimball, BOSTON
HERALD, 3/31). Also in Boston, Will McDonough & Nick Cafardo
report an injunction could lead to an April 24 start date. If
the owners don't lock out and the players pledge not to strike
and to continue good faith negotiations, the season could be
shortened to 150 games. The Red Sox replacement team will not
fly to Minneapolis until Monday (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/31).
I'LL SEE THAT 25%, AND RAISE YOU ... MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr
announced last night that the players had verbally agreed to
accept the owners' offer to retain the old system of arbitration
and free agency, and that other "secondary issues were all but
settled." That left the luxury tax and the term of the proposed
system as the "only major issues blocking an agreement." The
players offered a 25% tax on payrolls above $50M. The owners'
remain at 50% at $44M (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 3/31). USA
TODAY's Hal Bodley writes that management "was crushed" by the
union's offer. They were expecting a tax rate of at least 30% on
payrolls above $50M (USA TODAY, 3/31). "Sources on both sides
believe the negotiations will resume at an intense level
Saturday. Fehr said the union is ready to return to the table
and stay there" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/31). Gammons: "The
question is, when and if the owners come back and start
negotiating, are they going to really negotiate, or are they just
going to sit there and hold the line while the players do all the
movement? ... The players really do want to get something done"
("Baseball Tonight," 3/30).
PLAYERS GETTING ANTSY? In Denver, Tracy Ringolsby reports
that union leadership "is feeling a backlash from its members,
who expressed concern this week about the failure to make a quick
response to the owners' Monday offer. The pressure apparently
forced Fehr to speed up his counterproposal" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN
Maryland Stadium Authority Chair John Moag said yesterday
that they may file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL for
"illegally interferring" with Baltimore's attempt to get a team.
Moag noted that the suit would be part of a "two-track strategy"
to get an NFL team, with plans to "keep trying to persuade" a
current NFL team to move to Baltimore (Vito Stellino, Baltimore
Reports that NHL players are sure to play in the '98 Winter
Games in Nagano appear to be a bit "premature," according to
today's TORONTO SUN. Recently, IOC President Juan Antonio
Samaranch, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA Exec Dir Bob
Goodenow and IIHF President Rene Fasel met in Switzerland to
discuss the possibility of a hockey "Dream Team." The latest
reports from Europe, however, "indicate there's no unanimity
among the group" and that several major issues have to be settled
before the plan is given the "go-ahead." Goodenow: "We have
some hockey issues to solve. That includes the impact on the
players who might play and those who might not. Moreover, we
have to go over some business issues" (George Gross, TORONTO SUN,
NHL IN ZURICH? There is speculation overseas that the NHL
will open its European headquarters in Zurich "in the near future
to take merchandising and licensing programs in-house." Former
FIFA press chief Guido Tognoni would be the Managing Dir of the
office (TORONTO SUN, 3/31).