SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The second round of collective bargaining between officials for Major League Baseball and the Players Association will occur sometime during the next few weeks in the Phoenix area, Michael Weiner, the union's executive director, said on Sunday morning after meeting with the Rangers. The two sides had an amicable meeting in Florida on March 2, and Weiner said he hopes that regular sessions occur once the season begins on March 31. "In 2006 we didn't really get into that sort of rhythm until sometime in June," Weiner said. "I think we'll be able to do that sooner this time."
The 2006 negotiations were conducted under the radar, ending without rancor and the signing of the current Basic Agreement that expires on Dec. 11. Both sides want that atmosphere to continue. Thus, the public non-specificity of a date for the next session. Like the National Football League, which locked out its players on Friday night, Baseball officials are well aware of the disharmony that can plague labor talks. Until 2002, every baseball labor negotiations since 1972 included a lockout or strike. Even in '02, the two sides waged a very public battle until a strike was averted at the witching hour. Commissioner Bud Selig said on Saturday that the possibility of work stoppages in other sports was a stark reminder of 1994 when the last strike wiped out the end of that baseball season, the entire postseason and the opening of the '95 regular season. "It brought me back," Selig said. "The '90s were very painful for us. Really painful for me and the sport. We went through the mediation process. I replayed in my mind during the last few days what happened in '94. I've always said that this sport has had the worst labor problems in history. People find fault with both sides, with the Commissioner. It didn't do anyone any good." But that's not the case now. "We've had one meeting in Florida and it went very well," Selig said. "But we're early, very early." "As somebody who's been at this since the 1980s, this is a contrast to where we've been," added Weiner, who is beginning his first collective bargaining season after replacing Don Fehr as executive director last year. "I don't wish difficult negotiations on anybody. We support the NFL players and the NBA players as well. We take our cues from our history. We'll plow ahead and hopefully it will be a smooth ride. But there are no assurances." Weiner said on Sunday that both sides are very well prepared for this round of bargaining. He finished his recent tour of the 15 clubs in Florida this past week and began his Arizona sojourn at the Indians camp on Saturday. On Monday, the union will brief the Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz. As in the recent Florida bargaining session when a number of players joined in, the union expects the same type of turnout for the meeting coming up in Arizona. These spring bargaining sessions are preliminary in nature, setting the tone for the nitty-gritty meetings to come. "They are preliminary in the sense that these are the first meetings," Weiner said. "We need to get some momentum going. We're starting to get at it." Weiner said he doesn't see one overriding bargaining issue for a sport that generated $7 billion in gross revenue last year at the same time player salaries averaged $3.29 million. Both were records. "I don't see that this time, I see a range of issues," he said. "Some on the reserve system, some on pensions, some on revenue sharing, some on the draft. There'll be a lot of on-field things like schedule and postseason. It will be across the board." Selig has said he's most proud that the sport has enjoyed labor peace under his watch for an unprecedented 16 years. With a new agreement this year, that peace could extend toward the end of the decade. The Commissioner credits the sport's current popularity to that factor. "I've been thinking about this all week," Selig said. "When I think back at my early years in baseball and the public posturing that went on -- owners ripping owners, owners ripping the union, the union fighting back, the Commissioner in the middle. We stopped all that, too. I'm proud of that. It helps to have a constructive process and that's what we're going to continue to try to do." "I know he's very sincere about that," Weiner said about Selig. "There's no question that the game and everybody associated with it has benefited from what we've been able to achieve in labor relations. Because of all the fights, I think everybody on both sides has a healthy respect for the process and hopefully we can continue to build on that."
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.