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).