The World Series, which survived baseball's seven previous work stoppages, may fall victim today.
Racing against today's deadline for canceling the rest of the season, striking players delivered a "taxation" plan to owners Thursday and hoped it would be accepted in place of a salary cap.Owners left their lawyers Thursday night to examine the plan and promised a response today, when the strike begins its fifth week.
"The feeling of the executive council is that if nothing meaningful has happened, then we should call the rest of the season off," said Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles, who heard details of the proposal from reporters.
The players' plan calls for a 11/2-2 percent payroll tax, a 11/2-2 percent tax on revenue and for clubs to split 25 percent of gate receipts, according to sources speaking on the condition that they not be identified.
Sixteen clubs would contribute "tax" revenue to the other 12, sources said. The union suggested that clubs be required to maintain minimum payroll levels and that teams be prohibited from receiving money under the tax plan for more than three consecutive years.
It was unclear if enough clubs were inclined to accept a deal without the salary cap owners have been demanding. The role of management negotiator Richard Ravitch, the cap's most vocal advocate, has waned in recent days as Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris and Boston Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington have become more involved.
Fehr wouldn't predict the outcome of today's talks.
"I've adopted the posture that I'll be optimistic when I know an agreement will show up in the next hour," he said.
Twenty-one teams must approvea settlement, meaning any plan must have broad-based support. If owners aren't inclined to accept a deal based on the framework players presented, the World Series probably will be canceled for the first time since 1904.
"To go without a postseason would be devastating to the game," Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Brett Butler said. "Nobody is going to win and nobody is winning right now."
Acting commissioner Bud Selig said his deadline for calling off the remainder of the season "still applies."
"Everything is as it's been all along," Selig said in a telephone interview from his Milwaukee office.
If there is a deal today, players probably would return to the field on Sept. 16 or Sept. 19, depending on how many days of workouts the sides agree to.
Harrington said after the players' 30-minute presentation that he hopes the proposal "will lead to more progress."
Fehr said players wouldn't agree to any large tax that might be "inhibiting" in the free agent market. He said the plan didn't alter the basic structure of free agency and salary arbitration.
Players hoped Selig would reconsider today's deadline and allow talks to continue.
"If there's a settlement within reach, or a possibility of that coming, I don't think there's a time frame on this," Butler said.
Fehr said he wasn't concerned about it, either.
"We'll keep talking unless and until someone stops listening to us," he said.
Both sides expected to have a formal bargaining session on Thursday, but it never developed.
Currently, American League teams share 20 percent of their gate receipts while National League teams share just 43 cents per ticket, which amounts to about 4 percent.