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MLB players poised to strike today

Owners and union officials met repeatedly Thursday, although it may not be until the final hour that either side is willing to make a deal.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

If they don't have a new labor agreement by around noon today, major-league baseball players are prepared to take their bats and gloves and go home.

With players poised to strike this afternoon, talks continued into the night Thursday with indications they may continue until the last minute.

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"If you asked me right now, I'd say I don't know (if there will be a strike)," Rays player representative John Flaherty said before Thursday night's game in Anaheim, Calif. "I'm still optimistic; we're not that far apart. But there's got to be a willingness on both sides to get a deal done. We've always said it's probably going to come down to the last hour."

And it may not be until then that either side is actually willing to make a deal.

"There's going to be a lot of posturing," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the National League player representative. "Nobody is going to show their best hand until they have to."

The sides met repeatedly Thursday, shuttling between the union and commissioner's Manhattan offices on a fittingly dreary day, and started again at 9:30 p.m. The primary issue remains a compromise on the implementation levels and percentages for a new luxury tax, which is designed to restrain spending by the large-market teams. Also unresolved are the specifics of a plan for increased revenue sharing, the owners' desire to eliminate two teams and the length of a possible agreement.

"We've had numerous meetings in an effort to close the gaps," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said Thursday night. "We remain determined to reach a deal and will continue toward that objective through the night."

The strike would technically start at 3:20 p.m. EST today, when the Cardinals and Cubs are scheduled to start play in Chicago, but realistically there would have to be some type of decision by around noon.

Cubs officials say they won't open the stadium unless they know the game will be played, and union officials say they don't want players to be in a position to have to walk off the field or out of the stadium if there is a strike.

If the players do walk out today, it doesn't necessarily mean the strike will last long enough to cancel the rest of the season.

If, as some suggest, the owners didn't expect the players to be unified enough to walk out, or if, as some suggest, the players didn't think the owners will be unified enough to let them walk, or if, as some suggest, both sides realize the idiocy of striking over how to divide the game's estimated $3.5-billion annual revenues, there could be a quick settlement.

In 1985, negotiators reached agreement within 24 hours after the players walked out and the two days of missed games were made up. But in 1994, the players walked out in mid August and didn't return until the following April, a 232-day stoppage that led to the cancellation of the World Series, cost the industry millions of dollars and caused severe damage to an already diminishing fan base.

"I don't think we can envision the devastation from this one," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "It's going to be much worse than the last one."

A strike would be the ninth work stoppage for baseball in the past 30 years, continuing the once-grand sport's perfect record of being unable to get a new agreement without an interruption.

Around the major leagues, there was a juxtaposition of scenes Thursday.

Several teams operated as normal and as if they expected to continue playing.

The Cardinals and Brewers -- the team owned and operated by commissioner Bud Selig's family -- even made a trade, with pitcher Jamey Wright going to St. Louis for a minor-leaguer.

The Rays played a late game in Anaheim -- the final game of the night -- and planned to travel as normal on the team's chartered flight to Texas, where they are scheduled to play tonight.

"We're going to Texas and the union will take care of everybody getting back (Friday) if necessary," Flaherty said.

But several teams pushed back their flights until today, and several players acted as if the season was over.

In Cincinnati, Reds officials treated the game as if it were the last to played at Cinergy Field, which is scheduled to be torn down after the season. Ushers punched holes in fans' tickets rather than tear them so the tickets could be preserved as souvenirs.

In Texas, players packed their personal items into boxes. "It doesn't sound real good from what I've heard in the last few hours," said star shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who would lose nearly $115,000 a day, the most of any player. "You just have to prepare yourself for the very worst."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush, a former owner of the Rangers, wouldn't get involved but issued an ominous statement: "The owners and players need to keep in mind not only what a strike would do to the future of baseball, but also what it would do to America during a time of national unity and national spirit."

Sen. Arlen Specter suggested the Judiciary Committee review baseball's antitrust exemption if there is a strike.

While both the owners and the players insist they are unified and prepared for the repercussions, it is clear that no one -- especially the fans -- would win if there was a strike.

Players would lose millions of dollars in salary, with each player giving up about 17 percent of his salary if the season is canceled. Teams would save on payroll and game-day expense, but would lose millions in revenue from ticket and concession sales. The owners would also have to give refunds or offer credits to season-ticket holders, suite holders, sponsors and radio and television partners.

-- Information from staff writer Kevin Kelly and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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