Selig optimistic about looming labor talks
MLB's current Basic Agreement expires on Dec. 11
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- The owners meetings broke up here at about noon on Thursday and Commissioner Bud Selig said that Major League Baseball is well-prepared both economically and strategically for this year's collective bargaining, which will begin shortly.The current Basic Agreement expires on Dec. 11 and Selig said that there was plenty of time between now and then to generate meaningful negotiations with the Players Association. Preliminary discussions between the two sides will begin in a few weeks, said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and its chief negotiator. In 1994, the players struck on Aug. 12 just after the agreement expired; in 2002 talks came right down to the wire on Aug. 30 before being resolved, and in 2006, with the expiration pushed back to Dec. 19, a deal was announced at the World Series. This time, resolution could come even earlier. "Look, the thing that I've said all along is that there's a constructive relationship now," Selig told the media after the morning joint session that included the owners and general managers had ended. "Negotiations are always tough. [They] have their players to represent, and I understand that. Rob and his people will do the same thing. "The one thing, I guess, which is shockingly different is that back [then] there was the anger expressed all the time. Owners were mad at owners. Owners were mad at the union. Everybody was mad at the Commissioner, whoever that was at the time. And you haven't seen or heard of any of that in last five to 10 years. So I think we're on a very constructive path." The owners have been meeting with the GMs for the better part of the last year, including four of the last five sessions, fielding their ideas on changes in rules, the First-Year Player Draft, instant replay and the playoff system, among numerous other topics. Bringing the GMs into the process like this for the first time has generated a feeling of inclusion at the sport's highest levels. "It was a benefit, I think, especially at the front end of these meetings," said Brian Cashman, the long-time Yankees GM. "It gave the Commissioner a good chance to find out just what the general managers think. It's been great, healthy." This has all come against the backdrop of MLB generating a record $7 billion in gross revenue and average player salaries exceeding $3 million last year, and the ongoing labor strife in the National Football League and National Basketball Association. In comparison, the NFL's gross revenue for 2009 was $8 billion. The owners and unions in both of those sports have been saber rattling with the possibility of the players being locked out in football and basketball sometime this year. Selig said he's been closely watching what's transpiring in the other sports and is ecstatic that baseball's labor situation has been so quiet in comparison. "There's no question that nobody could've believed -- starting with me -- that we'd have 16 years of labor peace in a sport that had eight work stoppages," he said. "That's really remarkable." Fans have noticed, flocking to MLB's 30 ballparks in record numbers topping 73 million in attendance this past season for the seventh year in a row. Selig said he expects MLB's gross revenue and attendance to continue to grow. Unlike the past, he said he wasn't even alarmed about the spending teams have done in the offseason to sign free agents and re-sign their own players. When it's all said and done, that figure will be close to $1 billion. "There was no discussion about that out of ordinary," Selig said. "No more emphasis than there usually is. Overall, I'm generally satisfied with that. There were some signings that you obviously think about and talk about. But it really was a matter of fact meeting. "I'm optimistic as we head into the new year. I've talked to all 30 clubs about ticket sales and other things. The last six years are the best six years we've ever had and I think this will move up a little. That's how good I feel about it."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.