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Players, owners prove pigs can fly

10/25/2006 - MLB

ST. LOUIS -- Until the Cubs win the World Series or Eric Byrnes combs his hair, this will have to serve as the most amazing moment in baseball history: The owners and players agreed to a new contract without publicly insulting each other once.

It's incredible. After decades of name-calling, strikes, lockouts and negotiations that resembled the "Who's on First?" routine, the two sides settled on a new five-year contract without shouting "You guys are a bunch of greedy @#$& pigs" and "So's your old man!" Neither Bud Selig nor Donald Fehr even once said they were "profoundly saddened" by the status of negotiations.

While there still was a heated moment or two, the talks went so smoothly and amiably that player representative Craig Counsell said, "A couple of times we looked at each other and said, 'What's going on?' "

The new agreement offers more of the same, with some streamlining to the free agency process and some added incentive for lower payroll teams to spend money. But the details are not nearly as important as the fact that it was settled two months before the current contract was due to expire.

"It's a sign of both sides being happy with the previous agreement," Counsell said. "The economics are good right now, and it gave us momentum going into this bargaining session. There was momentum at all times. We always made progress."

"There was a much greater spirit of collaboration and cooperation," Andy MacPhail said. "A lot of that has to do with the (owners) and players union, since 2002, having clearly developed a great amount of trust and cooperation."

Trust? Cooperation? Are we talking about the players and owners? If they can cooperate with each other, the Shiites and the Sunnis should be able to start raising barns together.

MacPhail's presence was welcome as well. A possible successor to Selig (and he would be a great one), MacPhail has been a general manager and brought needed real experience in baseball operations to the ownership side. Previous negotiations always focused on the financial issues -- of course, it was hard not to when the owners were constantly claiming they were going to have to live on food stamps if the players didn't agree to eliminate arbitration. While this new deal focuses on finances as well, it also makes some welcome changes to actual player movement.

For instance, most of the confusing dates for free agent contract offers have been eliminated. The deadline for signing draft picks has also been moved up to a hard date -- Aug. 15 -- and teams that are unable to sign first- or second-round picks will receive approximately the same pick the next year in compensation.

A dozen years ago, the players and owners were so far apart that Selig cancelled the World Series amid early plans to use replacements the next spring if a contract wasn't settled. This World Series, he was able to announce a contract agreement that will guarantee peace into 2011 and the longest stretch without a season disruption since the players union formed.

It was a great day for everyone involved. The players, the owners and, most importantly, the fans.

All it took was some common sense, communication, compromise -- and a lot of profit on both sides.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com