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Baseball Season Might End Today : Labor: Angered by the owners’ latest maneuver, players representatives will vote and could call for an immediate strike.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The baseball players union is expected to poll its 28 player representatives either today or Friday to consider moving up the Aug. 12 strike deadline in response to the owners’ refusal to make a pension payment of almost $8 million that was due on Aug. 1 from All-Star game receipts.

“The machinery is in place to consider it,” Gene Orza, the union’s associate general counsel, said Wednesday of the plan to poll the respective representatives. “We have an awful lot of angry players.”

While there was sentiment in some clubhouses Wednesday for an immediate walkout, union sources said it is more likely that current series will be completed and that an earlier strike, if approved, would begin Friday, with today’s games being the last.

Some consideration, the sources said, also might be given to the strictly punitive act of moving the deadline to Sept. 30, allowing the players to receive all of their salary and assuredly wiping out the postseason and the owners’ $140 million in TV revenue, but an earlier August date appears more likely.

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Orza said the union’s New York office was flooded with calls from upset players Wednesday after it was revealed the owners were withholding payment.

“You can say what you want about the players, but they understand a couple things,” Orza said. “They understand what constitutes fair play and what does not.

“When you start playing with their wives and children (by tampering with benefit plans), you’ve gone beyond fair play.

“It’s an all-time low, as I said yesterday.”

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At Anaheim Stadium Wednesday night, Chili Davis of the Angels said players wouldn’t have participated in the recent All-Star game if they knew the pension payment was going to be withheld.

“To me, this has brought us even more together as a unit and made us more determined to go on strike,” he said.

Dodger player representative Brett Butler met with teammates for 40 minutes and said: “All bets are off. I can tell you the players are upset with the things that have been going on. It seems like the flicker of hope (for a labor settlement) has been snuffed out with the way (the owners) have gone about it.”

The union vented some of its anger during a two-hour resumption of collective bargaining negotiations in New York Wednesday.

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There was no progress on the critical issues, but Don Fehr, the union’s executive director, said there was explosive response by the union in regard to the pension payment.

He accused the owners of keeping the almost $8 million “so they can fund a strike with the players money. It’s insulting, stupid and a cheap shot.

“Never in the history of our contentious relationship have they done anything like this,” Fehr said. “We’re researching our legal options and will take the appropriate action. I have no doubt they’ll eventually pay.”

Owners negotiator Richard Ravitch reiterated Wednesday that he considered it perfectly normal and a common practice in all industries to withhold funds when there is no bargaining agreement in place, the baseball contract having expired in March.

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“We had a four-year agreement that said very specifically what the owners shall contribute to the fund,” he said. “It also said the owners are under no obligation to make any contributions beyond the terms of the agreement.”

Making no apologies for his hard-line approach, Ravitch said both sides knew there were economic pitfalls during collective bargaining and that the players benefited significantly from the owners’ decision not to stage a lockout during spring training or the season.

“The owners assumed a tremendous risk with that decision because they knew the players could strike at any point and create a tremendous disruption in the game,” Ravitch said.

Fehr, however, said the conditions of employment can be changed only through collective bargaining, and that even Ravitch and his staff admitted that the conditions had not been changed.

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In a letter to Ravitch that the union made public, Fehr told owners their decision was “in contravention of all custom and practice.”

“This was a cheap shot, and a blind one, and was intended that way,” he wrote. “Why the players would want to be ‘partners’ with people who do that is beyond imagination.”

Speaking by phone, Fehr added: “They can’t agree to the players services in the All-Star game and then not pay them. I asked Ravitch if he thought the players would have played the All-Star game knowing the owners intended to withhold the only compensation the players receive and he had the gall to say, ‘Gee, I don’t know.’

“Well, that’s just sophistry bull. . .

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“I don’t know if it’s Ravitch’s idea or the owners as a group, but it’s just part of the plan to drive the players out. As I’ve said before, this is not a fight of the players’ making, but they won’t be intimidated. They’re not going to back down.”

Fehr also said “there was considerable pressure within the union to not participate in the All-Star game” but that management asked them to hold off on a strike because of the game’s importance to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the owners’ new TV alliance with ABC and NBC.

Lawyers for the two sides will hold another bargaining session today amid the deteriorating relationship and a claim by sources close to the negotiations that the big-market clubs, often portrayed as having no desire for a prolonged work stoppage, have agreed to shut down for the season if the players strike.

Interim commissioner Bud Selig denied that, saying there is no such agreement. He insisted again, however, that there is definite unanimity among the often splintered owners.

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“We’ve risen out of the morass of big-market, small-market self interest,” he said. “There’s unanimity on our side and unanimity on their’s, but we have to stop telling each other that and find a system that will be beneficial to both.”


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