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NEW YORK (AP) - Exactly two years after the start of the longest and
costliest work stoppage in U.S. sports history, players and owners are
on the verge of a deal that finally would give baseball labor peace.
Following a weekend of 13 bargaining sessions, the sides were closing in
on a collective bargaining agreement that would run through 2000 or
2001. But they still had to bridge small gaps in many areas and it was
not clear if it would take hours or days to settle on a labor contract.
``Things are moving along, slower than I would like, but the atmosphere
remains positive,'' union head Donald Fehr said after the latest session
ended at 1 a.m. CDT today.
Negotiators, who said they intended to resume meetings at midday,
proposed various exchanges and still had to strike a compromise on what
the union would give owners in exchange for 75 days of service time
covered by the 232-day strike, which began on Aug. 12, 1994.
Among the items owners were asking for: dropping all the litigation the
union filed during the 1994-95 strike and a release from any damages the
owners may have caused during the walkout.
``We're continuing to try to get this done as quickly as we can,''
management negotiator Randy Levine said before heading home for a few
Sources with knowledge of the negotiations, speaking on the condition
they not be identified, said the sides' positions on a luxury tax were
so close that an agreement on those points was ``inevitable.''
Several sources said the release for damages that may have occurred
during the strike was the largest of the remaining sticking points.
``You never know when a minor thing becomes a major one,'' Boston Red
Sox chief executive officer John Harrington, a member of the owners'
labor policy committee, said Sunday evening. ``Both sides are hopeful
that we're coming down the stretch.''
Negotiators, who had spent the last nine months making little or no
progress, met 10 times over 35 hours on Friday and Saturday, leading
players and owners to hope an agreement was imminent.
``Finally, we may be getting some conclusion to this nightmare,'' said
New York Yankees pitcher David Cone, the AL player representative.
A luxury tax to decrease the payroll difference between high- and
low-revenue teams will be in place in 1997, 1998 and 1999, but not in
The sides were very close to agreeing to thresholds for the tax: about
$51 million for 1997, about $55 million for 1998 and $58 million-$59
million for 1999. The tax rate would be 35 percent.
Teams over the threshold would pay the tax, discouraging large-revenue
clubs from raising their payrolls far above the threshold. If the $51
million threshold had been in place this year, the New York Yankees
would have paid a tax of about $5.2 million, based on their $66 million
payroll, including salaries and benefits.
It appeared the union would agree to use three-man panels in salary
arbitration cases. The sides also weren't far apart on raising the
minimum salary from $109,000 to about $150,000 next year.
Owners also were prepared to credit players with service time for the
period they were on strike. With the service time, several stars would
become eligible for free agency following this season, including Chuck
Knoblauch of the Minnesota Twins, Moises Alou of the Montreal Expos and
Bernard Gilkey of the New York Mets.
During a Sunday afternoon conference call, owners on the labor committee
again told Levine they expected to get something significant in exchange
for service time, according to a source familiar with the call.
With the sides so close, negotiators pondered how to make the final
tradeoffs that would give baseball labor peace for the first time since
December 1992, when owners reopened the last collective bargaining
All around baseball, players and officials wondered if there would be a
settlement this week.
``My bet is yes,'' New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said.
Cowboys kept busy by Jones' schedule
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After that, team owner Jerry Jones has scheduled yet another game for
Saturday night in Texas Stadium against the Denver Broncos.
Just over the past week, the Cowboys lost 32-6 to Kansas City last
Monday in Monterrey, Mexico, and scrimmaged the Houston Oilers three
nights later before 51,000 fans in El Paso. The team also squeezed in
Austin workouts between those appearances.
Some players have been openly griping about the rigorous summer camp
Dallas opened the exhibition season way back on July 24 by beating the
Oakland Raiders 35-34 at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys scrimmaged the
Raiders for three consecutive days after that.
``It has been a tough, hard training camp,'' said defensive coordinator
Dave Campo. ``But that's how you find out who your players are.''
The Cowboys have certainly been testing their younger players. Ten
starters from last year's Super Bowl team haven't played in a game yet,
and won't appear against the Patriots.
One is running back Emmitt Smith, who sprained a knee in a blocking
drill last week. Smith will be fine, but the Cowboys are taking no
Quarterback Troy Aikman was expected to play the first quarter, as he
has done in all previous exhibition games and scrimmages.
The Cowboys, who won't have Michael Irvin for the first five games of
the regular season because of his drug case, are trying to get Aikman in
sync with the other receivers.
Deion Sanders and Aikman are trying to get their timing down, and the
Cowboys hope such young receivers as rookie Stepfret Williams can make
The Cowboys are hurting at tight end, where they lost Kendall Watkins
with a season-ending knee injury during the scrimmage with the Oilers.
Jay Novacek is nursing a bad back and second-year tight end Eric
Bjornson has hamstring problems.
Dallas has been experimenting with fullbacks Daryl Johnston and Herschel
Walker at tight end.
``We have to look at some different combinations at tight end and see
what kind of production we can get,'' said head coach Barry Switzer.
The last time the Cowboys and Patriots met in the preseason was in 1982,
when the Cowboys prevailed 36-21. ESPN will televise tonight's game,
which will feature the experimental use of instant replay if coaches
want to use it.
Each coach has three challenges per half. The referee will make a
decision on the field using a wall monitor.
New England (0-1) hopes quarterback Drew Bledsoe can start showing the
promise expected of him by Bill Parcells. Bledsoe suffered a separated
shoulder in the third game of the season last year, and the Patriots
managed only a 6-10 record.
Bledsoe ended up with the lowest quarterback rating in the AFC.
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