NEW YORK -- The rancorous process of baseball labor talks moved into public view Tuesday with San Diego Padre Owner John Moores saying he was prepared to sit out a season if the Major League Baseball Players Association follows through on its Aug. 30 strike deadline and union head Don Fehr accusing owners of attempting a "wholesale attack on the salary structure" in memos to major leaguers and agents.
While negotiators focused on the core hurdles of a payroll tax and revenue sharing, Moores became the most recent owner to defy Commissioner Bud Selig's $1-million gag order. He followed Texas Ranger Owner Tom Hicks, who has publicly preached for even stronger cost containment that management has proposed, in echoing the sentiment of hard-line owners prepared to pay a high price for greater salary restraint in the next agreement.
"The hawks are circling," said owner Jerry McMorris of the Colorado Rockies.
Yankee Owner George Steinbrenner also recently violated the gag order, and a high-ranking major league official said Selig is expected to fine Moores, Hicks and Steinbrenner after reviewing their actions.
"The commissioner wasn't at all happy and plans to deal with all three cases," the official said. "In fact, he expressed his displeasure in a conversation with Moores (Tuesday). The only thing comments of that type do is create a lot of heartache for the negotiators.
"They do not reflect the universal thinking of owners or any change in negotiating strategy. The goal is what it has always been. We need to create a system reducing the competitive and revenue disparities and to do it through a negotiated settlement."
Moores said he did not understand the reaction to comments published in Tuesday's editions of the New York Times.
"All I'm saying is that we have to be prepared for a walkout," said Moores, who believes eight to 10 other owners were prepared to have a similar reaction in the event of a walkout. "It's the players' strike. We have to be prepared for however long it lasts. As I've said many times, there are serious problems with the system and they have to be resolved. We can't keep asking fans to pay higher ticket prices, and we can't keep shutting our eyes to the problems.
"We need a meaningful deal, not just any deal, and I'm confident the commissioner will not bring a deal to ownership that he doesn't believe is in the best interest of the game. I'm confident he will not offer us a deal that doesn't look a whole lot like the blue ribbon committee's report. I have a lot of confidence in Selig. He's been very clear about what's needed, and I'm 100 percent prepared to support him. I think most owners feel the same way."
Meanwhile, Fehr accused owners of moving to "lower salaries" in briefing union membership, reaffirming his position that management's economic proposal is tantamount to a salary cap. "Simply put," one memo read, "the clubs' proposed tax is designed to and would apply enormous pressure to reduce payrolls."
Contacted Tuesday night, Fehr reiterated the union wouldn't agree to a system that turns back the clock.
"I'm obligated to make reports to my constituents and that's what I did," Fehr said of the memos. "As for the comments of Moores and Tom Hicks, well, you'll have to judge them for yourself. It is what it is."
Rob Manfred, baseball's lead labor lawyer, responded that Fehr's portrayal of the owners' tax and revenue sharing proposal as a salary cap was "a baffling characterization."
"I assume the memorandum was sent out in order to brief the players and get them prepared to engage in a work stoppage," he said. "If (Fehr) went out and said, 'Gee, I agree with Rob Manfred, this really is a modest set of proposals,' they probably wouldn't be all that hot about the idea of going on strike."
Manfred continued to express disappointment that the union has brought the sport to the verge of its ninth work stoppage in 30 years after owners vowed not to lock out players through the World Series, but he remained hopeful a deal could be completed to avert a strike.
"If the owners really wanted a salary cap, they know how to propose a salary cap, and they would have instructed me to do so," said Manfred, who declined to reveal specifics of the economic proposal he made Tuesday to the union. "Instead, we approached this negotiation with a modest set of proposals that alone or in combination cannot be fairly characterized as a salary cap.
"What they are is a set of proposals designed to reduce revenue disparity in the industry. A salary cap is an aggregate limitation on what players can earn and an absolute limitation on what any team can spend. Neither of those are in our proposal."
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