The professional players of the 7-year-old Major Indoor Lacrosse League are tired of getting the short end of the stick.
Peter Schmitz, president of the newly organized, 175-member MILL Players Association, said last week that negotiations with league representatives for higher pay, which began Aug. 5, have been unproductive.
Schmitz, a five-year veteran with the Boston Blazers, said his members are ready to strike when the eighth MILL season begins in January. The players are seeking at least double their salaries in a pay scale that has not changed since the league was formed in 1987 by Kansas City, Mo., entertainment executives Chris Fritz and Russ Cline, who own all of its teams, including the Baltimore Thunder.
MILL general manager Mike Mathis said a counterproposal will be offered as early as today.
According to Schmitz, 32, a first-year player in the lacrosse league receives $125 per game for an eight-game season. A second-year player gets $150, and the salary goes up in increments of $50 per year so that, for instance, a five-year player such as Schmitz is paid $300 a game.
Darrell Russell, general manager of the Thunder, said the owners' latest proposal includes raises that would almost double salaries within three years.
"And it includes incentives that would pay them for coming to practice, and pay them mileage for practice," Russell said.
The Thunder averaged about 9,000 fans for each of its four home games at the Arena this season, Russell said. "We get good attendance, but when you only play eight games [home and away], that doesn't add up to a lot. . . . We're not the NHL or the NBA. These guys are part-time athletes who are compensated fairly well."
The dissatisfaction of the players became apparent during the 1992 season, when New York Saints co-captain Vin Sombrotto, who also is president of Teamsters Local 966 in New York, called for an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.
The players voted against unionization, 81-49, but Sombrotto said: "More than 40 players failed to vote, and the others were scared off when the league put out the word that it might have to fold if the players organized for higher pay."
On April 8 -- two days before the 1993 season ended with the Buffalo Bandits beating the Philadelphia Wings, 13-12, for their second consecutive playoff championship before a capacity crowd of 16,325 in Buffalo -- the league's players were mailed ballots with three choices on the question of organization: 1. Join the Teamsters. 2. No union. 3. Form a players association.
According to Schmitz, the final tally showed that 79 players voted to form their own association, 43 to join the Teamsters and three to remain independent.
"A lot of Canadian players claim they did not receive their ballots in time to make the voting deadline," Schmitz said in explaining why 50 of the league's 175 players (almost 30 percent) were not