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Shoptalk pleases Red Sox

Visit from Weiner shows labor gains

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 8, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — As National Football League owners and players fight over issues that could derail their league, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner delivered a hopeful message to the Red Sox yesterday.

In a 90-minute clubhouse meeting, Weiner told the players that the MLBPA had its first bargaining session with the owners last week and continued labor peace is the likely result.

A new deal is not a given, but never before have the players and owners shared so much common ground.

“I think that sometimes you’re victims of your history. Here we are the beneficiaries of that history,’’ said Weiner, making reference to the strike of 1994 that canceled the World Series.

In the years since, the sides have twice negotiated new collective bargaining agreements. The latest deal, ratified in 2006, was made more than a month before the previous agreement expired. The same could be true this time with a deadline of Dec. 11.

In recent years, the players and owners have worked together on issues ranging from drug testing to the World Baseball Classic to player safety.

Last fall, the players’ union formed an allegiance with the commissioner’s office to open lines of communication with the umpires. The first meeting of those groups was held Saturday.

Polarizing union leaders Donald Fehr and Gene Orza have stepped aside, their departures coinciding with a new breed of owners who accept the MLBPA’s role.

Even owners who once fought bitterly with the union, such as Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox, have softened their stance.

“I think what came out of the ’92-96 round of bargaining was a respect from the owners that the union and the players were not only a fixture, that we’re not only a part of the game, that we can be a positive contributor to the institution and the game and that collective bargaining can work to do that,’’ Weiner said. “That attitude has prevailed.’’

The labor problems faced by the NFL and NBA do not exist for baseball.

“Context is important, I’m not going to deny that. I know while baseball players support football players and basketball players, baseball players understand that each sport and its union has its own history,’’ Weiner said. “I think our guys take their cues more from the way baseball players have handled labor relations than what happens with other unions.’’

Daniel Bard, the Red Sox’ player representative, walked away from yesterday’s meeting without many concerns.

“To me, we received good news,’’ he said. “Our union is strong and the owners respect that. There don’t seem to be major issues between us, just some things that need to be worked on.’’

Revenue sharing is one. The union, along with large-market teams, has concerns about the distribution of wealth and whether teams on baseball’s dole, such as the Pirates, Marlins, and Royals, are putting that money back into player development.

“The issue from our perspective is crucial because the history of baseball is driven by local revenue, unlike some of the other sports,’’ Weiner said. “We’ve got a lot of ideas to bring to the table. I would expect the owners will as well.’’

Most baseball executives believe the amateur draft will undergo changes, including the possibility of a hard slotting system for signing bonuses or a worldwide draft.

“A slotting system from the players’ perspective is a salary cap, and this union’s position on salary caps historically has been pretty clear,’’ Weiner said.

“I know that we’re going to be bargaining over the draft, more broadly how entry-level players come in from all around the world. I’m not going to predict whether the changes there will be radical or not. I know that’s an area where players have a lot of ideas on, and I know the clubs have a lot of ideas as well.’’

One issue not expected to cause any ripples is drug testing.

“Put it this way: Drug testing is now part of our landscape in bargaining, but it’s not the dominant part of it,’’ Weiner said. “I’d expect there will be some changes but I don’t think they’ll be fundamental or radical changes to the drug agreement.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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