Despite no revenue accord, Ravitch declares no lockout in 1994

August 14, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer The New York Times contributed to this article.

KOHLER, WIS — KOHLER, Wis. -- The hour was late, and Richard Ravitch was tired to the bone, working on just an hour of sleep during a two-day period.

But in the midst of his grogginess and his inability to get owners and representatives of the 28 major-league teams to agree to a revenue-sharing plan, Ravitch had the presence to pull a little sleight of hand early yesterday morning.

Ravitch, president of the Player Relations Committee, the owners' bargaining arm with the players association, said the owners would not lock the players out of spring training in 1994, even if the sides haven't finished negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement.

But Ravitch wasn't through pulling rabbits out of his hat. He said the owners would leave the terms of the current union contract in place for the November-December signing period, thus allowing potential free agents their chance at the market under current language.

"There's no drama, fellows," Ravitch said to a roomful of reporters. "There will be no lockout. Baseball will be played, and I hope everybody enjoys the rest of the season."

Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, had threatened a Sept. 6 player walkout, placing in jeopardy $250 million in postseason television money. He has been quoted as saying the players wouldn't strike if the owners promised no lockout. But he said yesterday that was not what he had said.

"I said if they want to take the edge off, that's the minimum they had to do," said Fehr, who wouldn't comment directly on Ravitch's announcement. "But I can't make that judgment. It has to be decided by the players."

Fehr, meanwhile, reacted angrily to a comment Ravitch made Thursday, saying Ravitch mis-characterized a letter from him.

Ravitch told reporters that Fehr had written him saying, "He had a very busy August, no time to meet, and that we ought to submit whatever thoughts we had in writing."

Fehr said that characterization was not true.

"The letter I sent him explicitly indicates that members of the staff would be available Monday, and we're prepared to meet Thursday or Friday with the whole staff and players, so I don't know why he would be making that suggestion," Fehr said by telephone from Colorado, where he was preparing to return home from a vacation.

When reporters had asked Ravitch Thursday if he would put thepledges in writing, he said, "Normally, in 60 years of life, when I make a commitment like that on behalf of a group that I represent, people don't ask me to put it in writing."

Ravitch's announcement seems to shift the weight of public scrutiny in the tussle between the players and owners to the players and Fehr.

"I have said I do not think he [Fehr] will strike because, though he did not tell you initially, he understood very well that we had no power to do anything this year and that the only conceivable way that the players signing season could have been jeopardized would have been by a strike by the union," Ravitch said. "It was only Don Fehr who had the capacity to put at risk the players signing season, not the owners. That remains the case."

The announcement, however, couldn't remove the sting of Ravitch's failure to get the owners to agree to a plan to redistribute wealth among the 28 clubs.

Ravitch had been working for more than a year to lobby clubs to see the merits of such a plan, combined with a salary cap, much like the one in the NBA, where a percentage of revenues is set aside for salaries.

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