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Fehr claims labor climate much softer

The Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz.

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

TUCSON, Ariz. – Donald Fehr believes the antagonistic mood so prevalent seven years ago when baseball had its last work stoppage has softened considerably.

That doesn’t mean, however, there’s going to be an easy path to a new collective bargaining agreement once the current one expires Oct. 31.

Not with salaries skyrocketing and the disparity between rich and poor markets still growing.

”Both sides have made a real effort to cooperate and find ways to solve problems,” Fehr said Sunday after he visited the Chicago White Sox, his first stop on a tour of all 30 spring training camps.

”In 1994 by this time, there was overt hostility, there were overt threats,” said Fehr, the players association chief.

”There are some rumblings and people talking the way they always do. But the rhetoric is not as loud, not as insistent and not as confrontational as it was then. I think if you’ll notice, there is no open hostility between the parties. Nobody is making any threats.”

Owners want to slow salary growth, and a lockout could start Nov. 1, the day after the contract expires. No formal negotiations have been scheduled, Fehr said.

The average salary will top $2 million for the first time this year following a free-agent market capped by Alex Rodriguez’s record $252 million, 10-year contract with Texas, the richest deal ever for an athlete.

Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield have responded to Rodriguez’s deal by asking for more money. Fehr refuse to comment specifically on individuals’ salaries or negotiations.

”You get discussions like this from time to time when you have new salary plateaus are reached,” Fehr said. ”They get worked out.”

From his perspective, Fehr said, the game is doing well.

”There are a lot of new stadiums, a lot of attendance, a lot of revenues coming in and records being set left and right,” Fehr said.

”It’s not the same everywhere. Some clubs are more well situated than others. That’s not a surprise to anybody … that some clubs have done a better job of managing their fortunes than others.”

Among issues owners have discussed is a competitive balance draft where the eight teams with the worst records during the previous three years would receive a player from one of the teams with the eight best records over the same period.

”If the owners want to propose something like that, we’ll certainly take a look at it,” Fehr said. ”Whether it’s additional revenue sharing or dispersal draft or changes in the amateur draft, you can’t look at them in isolation. You’re trying to look at the combined effect.”

White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who wasn’t in the major leagues during the last strike, said the meeting was educational, with Fehr giving the players numbers and figures, explaining how negotiations work and answering questions.

”When the time comes, you got to be concerned. This is what we do. This is our business,” Konerko said. ”If something is going to happen and I’m going to be out of work or locked out or there’s a strike, you want to know the reasons.”

Fehr promised that players would be ready for any eventuality.

”If you get into a crisis, players will do what they have to do,” he said.