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Deadline Looms in Negotiations

Baseball: Players' union and owners try to reach agreement before midnight Thursday, when expired rules go into effect.


Officials of the baseball players' union, meeting with acting Commissioner Bud Selig and four other owners at union offices in New York on Monday, said they would not change the proposed labor agreement rejected by the owners last Wednesday.

However, Selig planned to talk to union leader Donald Fehr again today, and sources close to the situation remained hopeful that an agreement could be reached before the deadline of Thursday midnight.

"It's on life support but it's not dead yet," a management source said of the proposed agreement.

The deadline was imposed because Friday is the first day players who have filed for free agency can sign with teams other than their own. If the deadline passes with no new agreement, there will be another season under expired work rules.

Could that deadline be extended? Fehr didn't sound optimistic.

"Players have to sign and clubs have to sign players," he said. "You can't keep pushing this back."

In rejecting the proposed agreement last week, owners also voted 30-0 to give their executive council authority to approve the deal if the union modified two provisions, eliminating its option on a second tax-free year in 2001 and removing the limitation on the number of clubs--now five--that can be taxed in any year.

"They offered no reason or explanation as to why they wanted these changes," Fehr said of the Monday meeting in which he directly, but civilly according to sources, rebuked Selig and the owners for repudiating their own negotiator, Randy Levine, who attended the meeting and is expected to resign Friday if there is no deal.

Fehr said he had neither the "authority or inclination" to remake a deal that the players ratified in September, barring significant changes. He said the provisions were inter-related and could not be revised individually.

Selig denied a rumor that supporters of the agreement have asked for another owners' meeting, but sources said he has been under intense pressure from owners who favor the agreement to weigh the consequences again and reconsider his opposition in the interest of five years of peace. Selig took at least three or four clubs with him, sources said, when he voted against the agreement in Chicago, and supporters think they could come close to approving it if he reversed his position.

Selig was accompanied by two opponents of the agreement, Boston Red Sox CEO John Harrington and Montreal Expo owner Claude Brochu, and two supporters of it, New York Met co-owner Fred Wilpon and Toronto Blue Jay president Paul Beeston. Beeston, Selig and Levine met with Fehr, assistant Eugene Orza and American League player representative David Cone after the main meeting, Selig acknowledging he has the authority to make a deal and promising he will think hard on it overnight, a source said.

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