Main Topics Of MLB Bargaining Talks Could Lead Into Bigger Issues Down The Road
MLB and MLBPA officials soon "will sit down together and begin talks" on a new CBA, and the "principal issues -- revenue sharing, cost containment in the draft -- are a prelude to bigger ones down the road, specifically: Schedule inequities, the seemingly hopeless stadium situations in Tampa Bay and Oakland, the fate of the designated hitter and Bud Selig's longtime musing, geographic re-alignment," according to Bill Madden of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. While "none of those latter issues is on the labor agenda, people all over baseball are talking about them." Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that he "stays up nights configuring Realignment scenarios that would solve a lot of baseball's problems." Showalter was not specific about contraction, but Madden wrote there is a "growing sentiment for it throughout baseball, especially in regard to the Rays and A's." At least three baseball execs "targeted those two teams as the most logical ones for extinction." One said, "It's pretty clear that neither of those teams can continue to operate in those facilities." Another exec said, "How much longer can you expect all the other teams to subsidize two teams, in futile situations, with revenue sharing to keep them afloat?" A source indicated that Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg and A's Owner Lew Wolff have told MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that they are "not prepared to continue operating under the present circumstances." Madden noted MLB "can unilaterally contract teams but must collectively bargain the effects of contraction with the union -- specifically the loss of those 50 jobs and what becomes of those players" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/27).
NO MAJOR OBSTACLES: On Long Island, Erik Boland reported MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner "doesn't see any major obstacles in the way" of a new CBA, but he has been with the union "for more than 20 years, so he knows things can change quickly." Weiner: "I'm optimistic that the lines of communication are open. ... We don't take anything for granted." Boland noted the MLB CBA is "up at the end of December and talks, though nothing substantial, have begun." Weiner "believes those discussions will begin 'in earnest' once the season starts." Everything from "baseball's drug-testing policy to the international draft to banning smokeless chewing tobacco will be on the table." Weiner said of the talks, "I don't think it's going to be status quo, but it doesn't appear that anybody's looking to reinvent the wheel" (NEWSDAY, 2/27). In Newark, Marc Carig noted the MLB smokeless tobacco ban being pushed by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) "will be discussed during talks to shape a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires in December." But Weiner Saturday said a move toward a ban is "difficult for a lot of reasons." Weiner: "The health risks are clear, the concern that use by kids is clear. But it's also a legal substance. We're talking about adults, we're not talking about cigarette smoke where there's a secondary health risk" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/27).
AIRING THEIR DIRTY LAUNDRY: In Chicago, Phil Rogers wrote for "one of the few times in the last decade," MLB team officials recently "went public with wildly varying takes on the economic times -- showing a distinct absence of lockstep as negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement begin." White Sox Senior VP & GM Ken Williams and Yankees co-Chair & General Partner Hank Steinbrenner "dropped the kind of verbal bombs that were common in baseball's bad, old days of labor relations." Williams said that MLB "needs to do more to help smaller markets, calling for a salary cap to even the playing field." He added that "rising salaries, climbing ticket prices and the need to help low-revenue teams are such serious problems that baseball has reached critical mass." Meanwhile, Steinbrenner made a "thinly veiled reference to the elimination of weak franchises." The comments "suggest a massive divide between the Yankees and most of the other 29 teams entering the last season" of the current CBA, and the "economic tension between the Yankees and their competition suggests Selig will have to work to keep the union from reverting to the divide-and-conquer playbook left over from" former MLBPA Exec Dirs Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/27). In Boston, Nick Cafardo noted Yankees and Red Sox officials last week both "mentioned revenue sharing," and "on this topic, the two stand united." Steinbrenner called the $130M the Yankees contributed to revenue sharing "socialism." Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino noted his team contributed about $86M to revenue sharing. Cafardo wrote it "has to frost the big-market owners when the Royals get revenue-sharing money yet are owned by" David Glass, "one of the richest men in America." Yet "nobody wants a salary cap." The MLBPA "would never allow a salary cap, anyway," so the "solution may be what Steinbrenner suggests: If you can't run your business well enough, you shouldn't have a business" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/27).