Mood Swings the Other Way in Strike Talks : Baseball: Owners "encouraged" and union "hopeful" after two sides find some room for agreement

From Associated Press

Twenty-four hours after talks almost broke off, baseball negotiators swung back into positive moods Fridays after the union finally made a new offer.

'I'm encouraged that maybe we're starting to get the wheels turning again," said starting to get the wheels turning again," said Colorado Rocky owner Jerry McMorris, who took over as the owners head negotiator.

The union finally accepted the owners Fort Lauderdale revenue-sharing agreement of January 1994 and proposed a 25% luxury; tax on the portions of payrolls above an unspecified level.

"It's a hopeful sign," said union head Donald Fehr. "I don't want to suggest so far that the gulf has been bridged."

Fehr said the union had told mediator W.J. Usery Last month that it was prepared to propose a 25% tax on the portions of payrolls above 145 percent of the average, which was $59,008,991 in 1994-more than $2.2 million above the highest payroll.

That would have been regarded as frivolous by the owners, so the union didn't suggest a level.

"We're prepared to come substantially off that," Fehr said. "I would like to think that we're able to begin this, though, at a level we're both comfortable with".

Menagement's last offer, made Feb.1 was for a 75 tax on the portions of payrolls between 435 million and $40 million, and a 100% tax on the portions above that. The tax would have been levied on 19 teams in 1994.

Still, owners viewed the union's move as a positive step and continued talks into the night at the Gainey Ranch golf club.

"We've just started to probe on the area of that tax," Mc Morris said.

For the moment, negotiators have left to the side the contentious issues, of free agency and salary arbitration. The owners want to eliminate arbitration. players say in order for that to happen, all arbitration-eligible players must become eligible for free agency.

Just a day earlier, acting commissioner Bud Selig left the talks because he was frustrated at the lack of progress. McMorris said then that he, too, would leave unless he saw signs of progress on Friday.

"Frankly, I think we're at this evening where I thought we'd be Wednesday night," McMorris said. Players considered their acceptance of the Fort Lauderdale plan a major step. The plan, had it been in full effect last year, would have transferred about $58 million from 17 high-revenue clubs to 11 small revenue teams.

The union proposed a five-year deal in which the revenue-sharing plan would phase in at 40% in 1995, 60% in 1996, 80% in 1997 and be at 100% in the final two years.

However, the luxury tax would only be in effect the first three years. Players said it would end after that because ownerss will receive expansion money in 1998, a sum expected to total about $280 million.

Fehr didn't attend the talks, instead sending lawyers Lauren Rich and Michael Weiner along with players Jay Bell, Paul Moltitor and Terry Steinbach.

Besides McMorris and O'Connor, management's group also included Chicago Cubs' President Andy MacPhail, Philadelphia Phillies co-general partner Dave Montgomery, Milwaukee Brewer vice president Wendy Selig-Prieb and lawyer Rob Manfred.

Selig, during a meeting with players Thursday, said he was frustrated at the lack of progress and tired of being pressured, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Selig was so frustrated, the source said, that he told players during the meeting he would consider turning talks over "to Jerry Reinsdorf and his union-busting lawyer."

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