Baseball talks have a sense of urgency
NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Negotiators for Major League Baseball remain optimistic, but a labor agreement has yet to be reached as the union's Friday strike deadline approaches.
Lawyers for management and the Players Association had four bargaining sessions Wednesday, the last of which lasted until just before midnight.
"We're prepared to meet all day (Thursday) and into Friday morning," said MLB spokesman Rich Levin.
If the sides are unable to reach an agreement, the strike will start with Friday's scheduled contest in Chicago between the Cubs and St. Louis at Wrigley Field.
Commissioner Bud Selig arrived in New York on Wednesday to monitor the bargaining sessions and was to meet Thursday with union chief Donald Fehr in the hopes of preventing baseball's ninth work stoppage in the last 30 years.
Hours after Selig's arrival, owners and the Players Association agreed on testing for steroids, a huge step forward as the deadline draws near.
"We have an agreement on the testing topic," said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations. "There will be some
form of unannounced testing every year of the agreement."
The testing plan would be in place for four years and would include only marijuana and cocaine "on a reasonable cause basis," Manfred said.
However, Selig admitted there remains a rift between the sides on a possible luxury tax on team payrolls and revenue sharing, which are the biggest issues.
"The same issues are unresolved," he said. "It's been very constructive and both sides are reaching out, but I can't tell you we're any closer."
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, fans in the right field seats at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City mocked the players by throwing dollar bills on the field, causing a delay of the game between the Royals and Oakland Athletics.
Boston Red Sox pitcher John Burkett cleaned out his entire locker at Fenway Park. He also packed up his items at his apartment and had them shipped to his home in Texas, saying he could live out of two suitcases for the rest of the season.
Some teams have changed travel plans to avoid flying players to cities where games might be canceled. The Chicago White Sox scrapped their charter to Detroit and Boston will delay its flight to Cleveland until Friday.
When the union agreed to set Friday as a strike day, it set in motion a chain of events that could result in the cancellation of the rest of the season for the second time in nine years.
The linchpin of the potential deal involves a proposed luxury tax on team payrolls. The owners' latest proposal calls for a tax of between 35 and 50 percent on payrolls over $107 million, with additional penalties imposed on repeat offenders.
The union has countered with a sliding scale tax that begins at 15 percent and could climb to 40 percent for repeat offenders in the third year of the four-year deal. But the union's scenario has teams being taxed on payrolls over $125 million in 2003 and increasing $10 million each season. The players also have eliminated the tax in the fourth and final year of their proposal.
The sides also differ on revenue sharing, an area in which owners have called for $263 million to be transferred in each year of the pact. The players again would like to deal in increments, beginning with just over $170 million in 2003 and increasing about $25 million per season.
The team that figures to be impacted most by a new agreement is the defending American League champion New York Yankees. It is the lone team that would be penalized under both the revenue sharing and luxury tax proposals.
Six other teams, including the Red Sox and reigning world champion Arizona Diamondbacks, have payrolls in excess of $100 million, according to management standards.
The sides have been able to agree on a number of relatively minor issues, such as minimum salaries and players' rehabilitation rights. Also, parameters also have been put in place for a worldwide player draft.
U.S. Open hampered by rain delay
NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Rain has caused a delay of Thursday's scheduled matches at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Play was to begin no earlier than 1 p.m. Eastern time, according to tournament officials, but the forecast was for rain throughout the day.
A steady drizzle fell Wednesday evening, forcing one match to be suspended and another to be postponed. Lindsay Davenport, the women's No. 4 seed, and Petra Mandula of Hungary had their second-round match delayed twice and finally suspended with Davenport leading, 6-4, 2-2.
"Given the weather forecast for the next few days, we made every effort to complete as much tennis as possible," said tournament director Jim Curley.
The second Wednesday night match between men's No. 25 James Blake and Russia's Nikolay Davydenko also was postponed.
Davenport and Mandula are scheduled to resume as the third match in Thursday's session at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The Blake-Davydenko match also is scheduled to be third Thursday in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The men's No. 1 seed and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia is also in action Thursday, weather permitting, along with sixth-seeded American Andre Agassi.
Hewitt has proved to be a worthy No. 1, tying for the ATP Tour lead with four titles, including his first Wimbledon crown.
The women's second seed and defending champion Venus Williams is scheduled to play Alicia Molik Thursday night in a second-round match, and No. 3 Jennifer Capriati is scheduled to play Tina Pisnik in the afternoon.
WNBA title series begins
NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- It will be women's basketball's version of East Coast against West Coast when the New York Liberty hosts the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in Game One in the WNBA Championship Series commences.
The Sparks will begin their quest for a second straight title.
New York and Los Angeles played in the league's inaugural game in 1997 and have staged a nice rivalry over the years, splitting 14 meetings. The teams have never met in the postseason.
The rivalry between the teams was epitomized by the last meeting on July 18 in which New York posted an 72-59 victory that was the Sparks' last road loss. Three days earlier, L.A. center
Lisa Leslie made some remarks about the aggressive play of her Liberty counterparts, Tari Phillips.
Phillips took exception to the comments and put up a pair of posters of Leslie in the locker room before that contest. The game was an intense, physical affair in which Sparks guard Sophia Witherspoon punched New York's Becky Hammon twice in the stomach and Phillips and Los Angeles forward DeLisha Milton exchanged in some pushing and shoving and were whistled for double technical fouls.
Leslie managed 16 points and 11 rebounds despite being pushed around and Phillips had 12 and nine. Phillips, who was hobbled by a sprained ankle in the Eastern Conference Finals is eagerly looking forward to the rematch.
"It'll be bang-em-up, bang-em-out," Phillips said. "We're both top competitors. Lisa is such a competitor and so am I. It's a clash of titans. I don't expect anything different."
Leslie averaged 16.9 points and shot 47 percent from the field in the regular season, but has turned it up in the playoffs to average 21.0 points per game and shoot 55 percent.
The Sparks have taken a smooth route to the Finals by sweeping Seattle and Utah, and enter with a seven-game winning streak. Los Angeles has also won seven straight road games since the loss in New York.
Los Angeles has won its four playoff games by an average of over 15 points and has held opponents to just 66 points per game.
"Defense wins championships," said Sparks Coach Michael Cooper. "We have to play 40 minutes of hard defense."
The Liberty have had a much more difficult road to the Finals, losing the openers of series with Indiana and Washington before winning twice at home in each case. New York is the first team to win a pair of series in the same postseason after losing the opener, and is aware of the ease in which Los Angeles advanced.
"Los Angeles has just been running through everybody in the playoffs," said New York Coach Richie Adubato. "We know what we will have our hands full with Leslie, and Milton is playing the best basketball I have ever seen her play in the playoffs."
This is New York's fourth shot at a title. The Liberty lost to Houston in championship appearances in 1997, '99 and 2000.
The Liberty are also looking to start the series with their fifth straight win at home. Winning at home is something New York failed to accomplish in 1999 and 2000, when it dropped series openers at Madison Square Garden.
No Eastern Conference team has ever won the WNBA title. Los Angeles is 10-1 in the playoffs over the last two postseasons, including a 5-0 road mark.
Martin to get long-term deal from Jets
NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Curtis Martin, who has rushed for more than
1,000 yards in each of his seven NFL seasons, Thursday is expected to sign a contract extension with the New York Jets.
The Jets have scheduled a news conference for 2:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan following the team's annual kickoff luncheon.
Martin's current contract counts for $9.5 million against the cap this season and $10 million in 2003. By giving him an extension, the Jets can convert most of his base salary in
2002 into a signing bonus, prorating it over the length of the contract. That could save the team more than $3 million on this year's cap.
Reports indicate Martin, 29, likely will receive a signing bonus of around $10 million. Last month, St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk signed a seven-year contract worth $43.95 million that included a signing bonus of $9.3 million.
Martin is entering his fifth year with the Jets after spending the first three years of his pro career with the New England Patriots. He has rushed for 9,267 yards.
In 2002, he will try to become only the second player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first eight seasons. The other is the now-retired Barry Sanders.
Martin was second in the NFL in rushing last year with 1,513 yards.
The Jets also are negotiating extensions for wide receiver Wayne Chrebet and Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae. Both are eligible to become unrestricted free agents after the 2002 season.
With 456 receptions, Chrebet is third on the team's all-time list behind Hall of Famer Don Maynard (627) and Al Toon (517).
Packers, Brookins part ways strangely
GREEN BAY, Wis., Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Running back Jason Brookins may no longer be the object of a search by the Green Bay Packers.
Team personnel made him the object of a search this week. He apparently was a victim of a miscommunication after Monday night's win over Green Bay, and left the team.
Brookins was told by a staffer to turn in his playbook, and he thought that meant he had been released. In short order, he cleaned out his locker, jumped in his car, and drove home to Missouri.
Turns out all the staffer wanted to do is to remove pages pertaining to Monday's opponent, Cleveland, and update it for this week's practices and game against Tennessee.
"He was approached for the playbook, and at the same time somebody asked him if he needed a ride to the airport," his agent, Stephen Weinberger
told the Green Bay News-Chronicle. "Because he didn't play the night before, he thought he was waived."
Weinberger said the latest thing he has been told is that Brookins has been placed on the "reserve/left squad list." The paper explained that means Green Bay retains his rights and will also be given a temporary roster exemption.
Based upon the comments made by Coach Mike Sherman, Brookins may have a limited future in Green Bay, whenever he turns up.
"We have a nice in-house communication process that is full-proof, and he misread the communication on the video monitor," Sherman said. "He thought he was cut and he wasn't cut. It was a misunderstanding on his part, but I don't know quite how. It's (the system's) fool-proof."
In the meantime, the Packers claimed wide receiver Devin Lewis from the Houston Texans on waivers.
"It was an honest mistake, and I feel like they're trying to punish him for an honest mistake," Weinberger said.
Brookins began training camp down the depth chart behind starter Ahman Green, rookie Tony Fisher and other reserves Rondell Mealey and Ki-Jana Carter, who was released Tuesday.