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Owners Agree to Open Books for Players

April 18, 1985|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — The Major League Players Assn. suspended negotiations with the baseball owners over a new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday and demanded a full financial disclosure from the 26 clubs.

The owners will apparently accede, though it is not certain that all 28 items requested by the union in a New York negotiating session Wednesday will be provided.

"We welcome the request for additional information and view it as an indication that they are giving serious consideration to (financial) problems we have discussed with them," owner representative Lee MacPhail, the former American League president, said in a prepared statement.

"We are anxious to cooperate with them by giving them information as promptly as possible so that we can direct our attention to the important issues involved in reaching a new agreement."

Among the items requested by the union: Audited financial statements on every club; a history of the ownerships; concession and parking agreements; TV and radio contracts; club licensing agreements, and minor league franchise agreements.

Some of this material, MacPhail said, would be given the union at a meeting today. A MacPhail associate who requested anonymity said the owners have no option but to supply the records because Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said in February that he might order it as a means of finally proving to the players that the industry is in poor financial condition.

Don Fehr, the union's executive director, said that the negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement had gone nowhere, leaving the players "frustrated and resentful that they have to be put through this again."

"We aren't convinced that they have a problem that needs fixing, but they have been pleading with us to look at their financial records for four or five weeks," Fehr said.

"Since they're not willing to bargain on specific issues, we're forced to say, 'OK, let's look at the books and see where that takes us.'

"On the basis of their media statements, I'm expecting nothing less than 100% cooperation on this."

Anything less, Fehr said, and he might solicit the support of the National Labor Relations Board. He also said that he couldn't predict how long it will take union auditors to analyze the material.

"I suspect that I will then have to make a tour and explain our findings to the players," Fehr said. "Given the fact that it will be that much later in the season, I will also probably ask for strike authorization at that time."

The major stumbling block in the negotiations for a new bargaining agreement is expected to be the union's demand for a one-third annual cut of the six-year, $1-billion-plus national TV contract signed by baseball last year and a one-third cut of the extra $9 million in TV money that baseball will receive for expanding the playoffs from five to seven games.

Under the basic agreement that expired Dec. 31, the owners had been contributing $15 million a year to the players' pension fund--about one-third of their TV revenue. The players insistance on a similar share of the new TV contract would bring them $55 million to $60 million a year.

The union believes that the signing this week of shortstop Ozzie Smith to a new St. Louis contract calling for a reported $2 million a year is another indication that the owners' claim of financial instability is fiction.

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