The players’ association, on the offensive against the salary cap, declared to owners Thursday that all unsigned players are free agents.
Union head Donald Fehr sent a letter to management lawyer Chuck O’Connor saying the uniform player contracts offered Dec. 23 are defective because they contained new provisions. If successful, the move would set free 835 players.
In Washington, White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said President Clinton will be briefed on the strike shortly and will “try to bring whatever kind of influence he can.
“He’s very concerned that this is an issue that needs to be resolved, and resolved for the American people and those that are interested in the sport,” Panetta said.
Fehr, who spent Wednesday updating Labor Secretary Robert Reich, said existing contracts require owners to offer players the same contract language specified in the expired collective bargaining agreement. The union could file either a grievance or a lawsuit in an attempt to enforce its claim.
In a second argument, the union claimed clubs no longer can renew contracts. When players and clubs haven’t agreed to contracts by March 1, clubs have had the right to automatically renew contracts during the following 10 days.
“It is only the 1994 contract which may be renewed and, further, that it may be renewed only on the same terms as it contains,” Fehr’s letter said. “Since the (contracts) tendered on Dec. 23 are materially different from the 1994 contracts of those players, none of the players may be renewed on the basis of those tenders. Should any affected players choose not to agree to terms with their clubs by the renewal date, they will, accordingly, become free agents at that time.”
The union used a similar argument to gain free agency in 1975.
O’Connor, who hadn’t received a copy of the letter by early evening, said he wasn’t concerned.
“It sounds,” he said, “like it’s simply another way of saying (the union) disagrees with the clubs’ implementation of the salary cap and the related player contract changes, including the elimination of salary arbitration. That is not new to us. We knew that when we implemented.”
He said it’s further evidence the union refuses to bargain collectively over player compensation.
Umps out now, too
Major league umpires, locked out by the owners Jan. 1, will meet Saturday in Dallas to discuss their contract negotiations.
Management lawyer Robert Kheel made the owners’ initial proposal Wednesday during a meeting in Philadelphia with umpires’ union head Richie Phillips. Kheel wouldn’t detail the proposal.
“It was met with less than full enthusiasm,” said Kheel, who will meet with Phillips again next week.
Umpires currently make $60,000 to $175,000 a year and earn $10,000 to $20,000 more from the postseason bonus pool. Phillips last month asked for a 60 percent pay rise over four years, a doubling of the bonus pool to match the extra round of playoffs and to raise the severance package from $300,000 to $500,000 per umpire.
N.L. president Len Coleman said he regarded Phillips’ proposal with “disbelief.”
Price cuts planned
The California Angels and Texas Rangers said they will cut ticket prices if strikebreakers take the field during next season.
“If in fact replacement players are brought in, an adjustment in prices will be made,” Angels spokesman Larry Babcock said. “Nothing has been said about what the prices might be.”
The adjustments would affect season-ticket and individual game ticket prices, but not spring-training tickets, which go on sale Monday.
Angels president Richard Brown said earlier this week the club is developing a formula that would give rebates to season-ticket holders for games that are played with nonmajor leaguers.
“There are too many unknowns at this point to determine what changes in ticket prices there will be, if any,” Babcick said. “We’re all hoping that we won’t need to adjust ticket prices, that the major leaguers will be back and playing their normal roster.”
On Wednesday, the Rangers announced a scaled-back ticket price scheme that will provide a rebate of up to 50 percent if replacement players are used to begin the season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers do not have a plan for restructuring ticket prices, but both season-ticket and individual game ticket holders can receive refunds if they are dissatisfied, the team said.