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One Hurdle Cleared in Baseball Dispute : Lockout: Both sides agree that withdrawal of the owners' proposal for revenue sharing was a positive move.


TAMPA, Fla. — Charles O'Connor, negotiator for the team owners, said Sunday that baseball's labor dispute can be settled "relatively quickly" as a result of concessions the owners made last week. But players union leader Don Fehr disagreed.

"I think more of the ball is in the union's court than in ours," O'Connor told a group of sports editors and writers by phone from New York.

But Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn., said players, who were locked out of spring training Thursday, feel no sense of urgency about coming back and will not settle as long as the owners continue to insist on any limitation of salaries reached through arbitration.

"If there's one thing major league baseball players have never done, it's to cave in to pressure to make an inappropriate agreement," said Fehr, who spoke in person to a sports-labor seminar sponsored by the Associated Press Sports Editors at a Tampa hotel.

"Either the markets are going to determine (salaries) or they're not," Fehr said.

Fehr was referring to a recent proposal by Commissioner Fay Vincent that would limit the salary increase a player can receive in arbitration to 75%.

The 75% cap was part of a nine-point proposal that Vincent submitted last week. The proposal also eliminates what players considered the most unacceptable portion of the owners' original offer--restricting total compensation to a percentage of the clubs' revenue. Under Vincent's proposal, the issue of revenue sharing would instead be studied for two years.

O'Connor said he was able to persuade some of the owners to agree with Vincent's proposal only after "lengthy discussions."

While the union has not rejected Vincent's proposal, Fehr said it is unlikely it would accept any clause that limits a player's ability to negotiate in a free market.

Fehr did say, however, that the owners' tabling of revenue sharing last week removed the biggest stumbling block to a settlement. Still, he said that major differences remain to be addressed in the talks, which resume today in New York. Among them are the players' demand that eligibility for arbitration be reduced from three years in the major leagues to two.

O'Connor said the owners have no plans to end the lockout as an inducement to reach an agreement. But Fehr said the players would report to camp immediately if the owners ended the lockout.

"If O'Connor removes his guards and padlocks from the doors, we would report," Fehr said.

"There will come a point if this thing goes on where we will say to the players, 'plan vacations, go on a cruise.' "

Fehr said players would need about a week after a settlement is reached before spring training camps could open. "The camps need to open by March 1, and that's on the edge, in order to not delay the season," he said.

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