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RAY SUAREZ: Negotiations between Major League baseball team owners and the players union have failed to make progress toward a new agreement. This afternoon the executive committee of the Major League Baseball Players Association voted 57 to nothing to set August 30th as a strike date.
SPORTSCASTER: One-two. Long drive — over the head of Perez into left field.
RAY SUAREZ: If the games cease, it will be the ninth work stoppage for Major League baseball since 1972. The players set a strike date after talks with the owners fell apart. The key issue: A luxury tax that would rein in high-spending ball clubs. Club owners wanted teams with payrolls exceeding $102 million to pay a 50 percent luxury tax. They say smaller-market teams need the tax to make the league more competitive and to prevent major market teams like the Yankees from dominating the league.
PETER ANGELOS, Owner, Baltimore Orioles: You all know that in the last five or six years there has been an unbelievable increase in the salary levels that individual clubs are paid not through individual players, although that is the case also, but in the total amounts that these clubs are paid annually to their complement of players. We believe it’s time to get this spiraling payroll situation under some control, but remember, nobody is obliged to stay within that $100 million.
RAY SUAREZ: But the players union said the tax, combined with revenue-sharing, would put a salary cap on what players could earn. The sport generates about $3.5 billion in revenues annually. Players said they still hoped to avoid a strike.
SPOKESMAN: The purpose of setting a strike date is to speed up negotiations when people do it. You know, all unions usually have to set a strike date.
ROB MANFRED, Executive Vice President, Major League Baseball: They felt apparently that the addition of a strike date would create more pressure. In all honesty, I don’t think we felt a lot different today than we felt yesterday. We’d like to get an agreement. We feel it’s important to get an agreement absolutely as quickly as possible, but you know, in terms of our own thinking, I think we’re pretty much the same place today as we were yesterday.
RAY SUAREZ: The last collective bargaining agreement between the team owners and the players union ended in November; the last strike in 1994, led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in nearly a century. Today’s news was greeted with frustration by many, including President Bush. He used to the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The baseball owners and the baseball players must understand that if there is a stoppage, work stoppage, a lot of fans are going to be furious, and I’m one. It is very important for these people to get together. They can make every excuse in the book not to reach an accord. It is bad for them not to reach an accord. They need to keep working.
RAY SUAREZ: Many fans agreed.
FAN: Not again. It’s too much hassle, you know. The fans come out to see the players, the players are making money, the owners are making money. Hey, there has got to be a line somewhere.
RAY SUAREZ: And even as both sides seemed firmly set in their position today, all seemed to agree that a strike could jeopardize the future of what’s widely called America’s national pastime.
SPOKESMAN: We’re worried about September 11; we’re worried about the damage that could be done to the game the we don’t get a working agreement. We’re worried about a lot of things. We’re very worried about the fans and the perception of the game and keeping fans happy. We’re very worried about that.
SPOKESMAN: This is the fans game. If there is a work stoppage, we are going to lose a lot of fans. There’s no question about it. And like I said, I’m just optimistic that both sides are smart enough not to let it happen.
SPOKESMAN: Of course we’re concerned we may lose revenue or that each club may suffer a financial injury because of the strike, but that works both ways. The players also must consider that if they go on strike, they are going to lose the compensation that they each earn annually playing the game. So it seems to me that both sides have a strong incentive to get this worked out and put talk of strike behind them.
RAY SUAREZ: The union’s 750 players stand to lose about 17 percent of their salary. The walkout could begin over Labor Day weekend.