Optimism flagged as the baseball strike deadline neared, as hard-line owners stopped just short of giving the union a "take it or leave it" demand.
"The owners are playing nuclear chicken again," said a source in direct contact with negotiators on both sides. He said that while the Players Association had again moved closer to the owners' position on the crucial outstanding issue, the luxury tax threshold, several owners, and even some management negotiators, had taken a hard line, intimating they doubted the players would actually strike before Friday's games.
The union, breaking its own precedent, planned to remain at the talks right up to the deadline, even if a strike seemed inevitable. In the past, it had broken off negotiations by 9 p.m. EDT so that its membership would not have to prepare to travel for the following day's games. This same source said of union negotiators "they're planning on staying all night."
Although reluctant to accept the owners' demand for a luxury tax, the players had long since acquiesced to it. By Tuesday night, the union had lowered its proposed payroll threshold before the tax would affect an individual team to $120 million. The owners responded Wednesday by raising their proposal to $112 million. Thursday morning, the same source indicated, the union again lowered its proposal, to $118 million, and was awaiting a management offer to split the difference. The players' latest move had increased the number of teams that would be affected by a luxury tax from the original one (the New York Yankees) to three (the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers). The owners' $112 million proposal would result in six teams being taxed.
A final decision on whether or not a fifth baseball season would be interrupted by a strike seemed to hinge on whether the owners would continue to take the morning's hard-line position or return to the spirit of compromise shown on Wednesday. On that point, the source concluded, "There's been major slippage since yesterday."