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Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

Baseball Notebook: Quick agreement on labor contract would be wise

September 22, 2001

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— Now that baseball has pushed back the World Series because of last week's terrorist attacks, some are wondering if the national crisis will affect collective bargaining and the 2002 season.

When lawyers for owners and players drafted the current labor contract in 1996, they had the foresight to insert that the deal would expire either at midnight on Oct. 31 or after the final game of the World Series.

Unless there's a sweep, it appears the World Series will spill into November for the first time. But unlike last spring, there's little talk of a lockout that would shut down the free-agent market. With the national focus on terrorism and its aftermath, baseball's internal squabbles have become insignificant.

The attitude of many fans seems to be: If baseball wants its ninth work stoppage since 1972, go ahead. Few will pay attention.

"I know people have been speculating," commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday night. "We have got enough to do just to get the season over with. That's been my focus the last 10 days. We've got a lot of work to do between now and the end of the World Series."

Just after the start of September, management sent the union notice of its intent to seek changes in work rules, a routine practice under the National Labor Relations Act. But bargaining hasn't started yet.

"With everything that's happened, it's been put on the back burner," union head Donald Fehr said. "There are too many other things to do."

Fehr, as he does each year, has been meeting with players on every team during the final weeks of the season. Players generally are happy with the deal, which has seen the average salary rise from $1.17 million in 1994 to about $2.15 million this year.

Many small-market owners want massive change. Many large-market owners can live happily with the current contract. If history is any guide, owners will take many months to formulate a bargaining position.

But in trying to predict what will happen, look back at the last negotiations. Owners voted on Dec. 7, 1992, to reopen the key provisions of the collective bargaining agreement free agency, salary arbitration and the minimum salary.

Just over a month later, teams announced they wouldn't lock out players during 1993. And on Aug. 12, 1993, owners said they wouldn't lock out players during 1994.

Negotiations never formally began in earnest until March 7, 1994. Once management proposed a salary cap that June 14, it took just 44 days for the union's executive board to set a strike date.

The lesson: Just because a contract expires, it doesn't mean that anything will happen soon.

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Adjusting to the break: Baseball's lawyers, who had planned for a 183-day season, had to adjust to its expansion to 190 days because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

They came up with the following to service time, used to determine when players are eligible for free agency (after six seasons) and salary arbitration (after three seasons, plus the top 17 percent by service time of those between two and three years of major league service).

Players on active rosters on Sept. 11 will be credited with service through Sept. 16, and their service clocks will end Sept. 30.

Players who were added to active rosters from Sept. 13 through Sept. 30 will get credit for an additional six days of service. The only players who would get service credit from Oct. 1-7 are those added to rosters during that time.

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Eight is not enough: The International Olympic Committee last week rejected a request from baseball's governing body to expand the field for the 2004 Athens Olympics from eight to 12.

"This decision reiterated the Olympic discrimination against baseball in front of all other masculine team sports that have 12 teams except soccer, which has 16," the International Baseball Federation said in a statement Friday. "The extraordinary progress experienced by baseball in the last 10 years came to a halt."

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Charitable cause: An autographed bat from Ichiro Suzuki drew the top bid of $7,000 at an auction of items gathered by the wives of Seattle Mariners' players to raise money for terrorist attack relief efforts.

A pair of imitation diamond earrings and an autographed photo of Arthur Rhodes, donated by the reliever and his wife, Leah, brought $1,025.

Real diamond earrings, given to Rhodes by his wife to represent his two children, got him in trouble Aug. 25 at Safeco Field when Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel complained that sunlight was flashing off the jewelry.

When the umpire asked Rhodes to remove the earrings, he objected and was ejected after a verbal exchange.

"Me and my wife went out and got them (the imitation diamond earrings) for a good cause," Rhodes said. "You've got to have some fun with it and turn it back into something positive."

In all, $11,890 was raised by the auction. Mariners wives also collected $1,358 in other donations Wednesday, on top of $26,000 collected Tuesday when the Mariners resumed play.

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