Optimism in baseball talks

In five Wednesday meetings, the last ending Thursday morning, owners and players inched closer to an agreement. Stay tuned.

Published August 30, 2002 5:08AM (EDT)

With the caveat that they have always previously found a way to snatch discord from the jaws of peace, the baseball players and owners seemed to move relatively close to an agreement Wednesday night that would avert a strike set to commence after Thursday night's games.

An authoritative source in contact with the negotiators reported "this thing is moving along," and added there was a reasonable chance the two sides would reach a tentative deal before the strike deadline. "The owners can now claim that they clearly got something," the source added. "I don't think there's going to be games lost."

With negotiators for both sides virtually silent as they shuttled in and out of at least five separate brief meetings in New York Wednesday -- the last one not starting until nearly midnight Eastern time -- official news of shifts in bargaining positions was not forthcoming. Multiple sources confirmed, however, that Tuesday night and again Wednesday, the union moved significantly closer to the owners' position on the payroll threshold for the so-called luxury tax. The owners had been seeking a $107 million level per team, after which payroll would be penalized by as much as 50 percent. The players had moved to $125 million last week, but were said by these sources to have now moved closer to $120 million.

Union representative Johnny Damon of the Boston Red Sox last night confirmed that the players had dropped their threshold proposal from $125 million to $120 million. Damon says the owners raised their proposal from $107 million to $112 million. The changes puts the sides $8 million apart; Tuesday afternoon they had been $18 million apart.

Commissioner Bud Selig flew from Milwaukee to New York to be at hand for the bargaining, and made a brief appearance in the fourth meeting of the day, but did not actually participate in the negotiating. Selig appeared to be bothered by a heckler who greeted him upon his arrival at the talks with shouts of "I'm not paying another dime."

For the season to continue uninterrupted, negotiators must reach an accord well in advance of the formal deadline, which will fall between the end of Thursday's final game, Tampa Bay at Anaheim, and Friday's first one, St. Louis at Chicago. Logistics have always dictated that the union informs its membership well in advance of flights on travel days. If optimism fades, or the talks break down, the union was expected to advise the players by early evening Thursday, Eastern time.

By Keith Olbermann

Salon columnist Keith Olbermann hosts the ABC Radio Network's "Speaking of Sports ... Speaking of Everything."

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