Baseball Owners Play Ball

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CHICAGO: Anybody up for the Yankees vs the Mets? Three weeks after they rejected the same proposal, baseball owners did an abrupt pivot, ratifying a labor deal that provides for interleague play and at partially levels the playing field between big- and small-market clubs with a luxury tax. Many hardline owners had opposed the plan on the grounds that it did not do enough to control rapidly escalating player salaries. They were led by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who just days after railing about the need to cap spending signed Albert Belle to a five-year, $52.5 million contract that made the slugger the highest paid player in baseball. Reinsdorf again voted no on the proposal and was joined by Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland. Fourteen teams switched votes. "Actually, it's good for the White Sox because it dooms the small-market teams," Reinsdorf said. "There will be less for us to compete against." In fact, the deal does little to prevent the richer teams from continuing to outbid poorer, smaller market clubs for talent. The only break on salaries is the luxury tax, which forces up to five teams to pay taxes of 35 percent if their payrolls exceed $51 million next season. The new pact, expected to approved by the players union next week, should bring peace to baseball after years of labor strife since the last agreement between owners and players expired in 1992. In the end, the players got most of what they wanted (no cap on salaries), while owners got the interleague games that they have been pushing for. Baseball execs believe these games will bring in new revenues from fans excited about regular season matchups between American and National league teams that normally never meet, like the Cubs and White Sox or the Yankees and Mets. Perhaps even enough to pay those skyrocketing player salaries.