DETROIT - A person familiar with labor negotiations between Major League Baseball owners and the players stopped just short of confirming reports that the two side had reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year basic agreement.
But, the person, who requested anonymity, did acknowledge baseball was on the verge of doing something not seen "in at least 35 years," he said - and that was reach a deal before suffering a destructive strike or lockout.
"It is fair to say we have reached understandings on a lot of things," the person said, though he added "there is still a lot of work to do before anything is finalized."
Members of the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, for understandable reasons, mostly wanted to talk about baseball and their World Series matchup yesterday. But the news of a deal that circulated through Comerica Park before Game 2 did not escape their attention.
Rather it sent a wave of relief through both clubhouses.
There is relief that what is building into one of baseball's golden eras at the box office will continue uninterrupted because, in a historic turn, the present deal will be supplanted before it is to expire on Dec. 19.
There is relief that no gargantuan issues arose, such as a salary cap, or controversies, such as how to wed the right of privacy to the policing of illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In the past, such dicey issues and distrust easily pushed the game to the precipice time and again, resulting in hostile labor stoppages that seemed as routine as they were inevitable in the 1980s and '90s.
The deal now in place was made in August 2002, just hours before a threatened players' strike. "I'm excited for the game," said Detroit leftfielder Craig Monroe. "Keep this game rolling."
According to the Associated Press, the deal that was reached this weekend in New York essentially continues the status quo. Economics obviously made that possible.
With the boom at the box office, concerns over big-market, small-market disparity have faded. Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that the game generated an estimated $5.2 billion in revenue this year, up from $3.6 billion five years ago.
The players are benefiting along with the owners, as reflected by the increases in their average salaries. According to figures published on ESPN.com yesterday, the average player salary will be about $2.7 million this year. It was $1.1 million in 1995, the first season after the 71/2-month strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, and just under $2.3 million in 2002.
The average salary is likely to jump to $3 million next year or in 2008, ESPN.com said.
"Baseball is at an all-time high point right now," Monroe said. "You've got low-market teams doing well and different teams winning every year. Getting this done couldn't have come at a better time."
Monroe's teammate, Nate Robertson, agreed.
"It's fun to see the owners and our union all get together to try to work things out because of what the game of baseball means to people, especially with what's going on in today's world," said the lefthander, who will start Game 3 for the Tigers Tuesday
Why the harmony?
Robertson, for one, spoke to both sides' enlightened perspective when it comes to relating to the average fans - something millionaire players and billionaire owners weren't often accused of having in past labor wars.
"I just got a letter of presentation from a helicopter squadron that flew countless missions in the Middle East," the pitcher said. "They were presenting a flag to this team because [the Tigers are] something they could hold onto. That's how important baseball is."
Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan agreed. "The fans are such a big part of our game, and we appreciate all that they do."