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Deadline Passes With No Agreement

Baseball: But Selig vows owners will 'make every effort' to forge labor deal with players.


The midnight deadline for major league baseball owners to resolve their differences with the players and approve the proposed labor agreement came and went Thursday with acting Commissioner Bud Selig making no attempt to reach union leader Donald Fehr but issuing a statement in which he seemed to extend the deadline, saying the agreement remains on the table.

Selig's statement, branded as another publicity stunt by Fehr, does not affect the immediate agenda.

Free agents, as had been scheduled, will be allowed to begin negotiating and signing with teams other than their own today.

That action would seemingly trigger another year under expired work rules and trash the proposed agreement, but Selig said owners would continue to "make every effort" to forge an agreement and that negotiator Randy Levine would remain part of the process.

Levine, who had told Selig that, barring a deal, he would quit at midnight in response to the owners' recent rejection of the agreement he had negotiated with Fehr, said he received a call from Selig on Wednesday night and was convinced Selig "is committed to trying to resolve this in the near term [and] I'll do everything I can to help bring it to fruition."

How they intend to do that is unclear.

The union has already rejected the owners' attempt to renegotiate two key provisions in the agreement, and the success of a possible revote by the owners seems unlikely, given that the 18-12 opposition in the recent meeting in Chicago means 11 clubs would have to change votes to get the 23 needed for approval.

Selig said he has been devoting all of his energy to a creative solution, but had nothing specific in mind yet. He is spending the weekend on vacation in Arizona, which prompted Fehr to suggest that Selig is more interested in "communing with the sand and nature than in saving the agreement. Maybe since he got his own stadium [ground was broken recently in Milwaukee] he doesn't care about revenue sharing."

Fehr referred to a key provision of the proposed agreement aimed at providing financial assistance to small-market teams. If the agreement dies, so do revenue sharing, interleague play in 1997, a luxury tax that would control spending, a self-imposed player tax on salaries that would generate $40 million for the owners over two years and possibly $500 million or more in pending marketing contracts.

Sources on both sides insist there will be no interruption in the 1997 season but the chances of a spring lockout or a return to court by the owners in an attempt to implement their own work rules would continue to cloud the game's future.

Fehr agreed, saying it is clearer than ever that the owners don't want a negotiated settlement and "I can only hope they don't push this to another confrontation."

In his formal statement, Fehr said he had not heard from Selig, "who is now the owners' chief negotiator, in the last two days, nor do I expect to hear from him any time soon. Since we have no agreement, as of midnight tonight, free agents will be able to sign with clubs, under the terms of the previous basic agreement.

"Absent word from the owners that they have reconsidered their position, we will be operating under the old agreement for the foreseeable future. After all the time and effort that was put into reaching a new agreement, it is too bad Commissioner Selig and the owners saw fit to let this historic opportunity slip away."

The union's executive board is scheduled to meet Dec. 2, and a management source said that looms as the new deadline for Selig.

Free agents--a group that includes Albert Belle, John Smoltz, Roger Clemens and John Wetteland--and players subject to repeater rights restrictions will be governed by the rules of the old agreement.

The 11 players who would become free agents if service time is restored in a new agreement must remain with their current clubs until a definitive decision is reached.



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