Instead of approving a labor deal, baseball owners have chosen a path that could lead to yet another work stoppage in the next few years.
Owners voted 18-12 Wednesday to reject their proposed five-year labor agreement with the players’ association, probably dooming the deal and interleague play, too.
The 18 votes against the deal were 10 more than were necessary to keep it from going into effect. The owners permitted the two expansion franchises, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks, to vote, meaning that 23 votes among the 30 clubs were necessary to ratify the agreement.
At the end of a deeply divided 6-hour meeting that included a National League rebuke to the authority of acting commissioner Bud Selig, the owners voted 30-0 to give the Executive Council the authority to ratify an agreement - without another vote of the entire ownership body - if the union allows certain modifications.
Selig refused to discuss what changes in the deal the owners will seek. But a faction of hard-line owners, led by Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, has objected to management negotiator Randy Levine’s decision to give the union an option for what would be a second straight season at the end of the agreement - in 2001 - without a tax on the teams’ player payrolls being in effect.
But union head Donald Fehr called the rejection “extremely unfortunate,” and it appeared remote that players would agree to changes.
“The fact that the owners have repudiated their own negotiator makes the future quite uncertain,” said Fehr, who agreed to the deal with Levine on Oct. 24.
Selig tried to strike a positive tone, saying he hoped talks will continue.
“While we could not accept the proposed agreement as presented, there is substantial agreement on the vast majority of issues,” Selig said without going into details.
The Executive Council could approve an agreement by a majority vote, Selig said. He added: “Randy has said to us often, ‘I’ve done all I can do.’ And I understand that. This is the first time the clubs have had a chance to get together and go over the details of this and exchange information and data. There was a feeling in the latter part of the meeting of desperately trying to find a way to get this done. … We’re not starting from ground zero, or anywhere close to it.”
Levine almost certainly will offer his resignation by early next week, but he did not do so Wednesday.