Talks don't bridge big gap on small points

August 09, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Baseball's labor crisis continued to worsen yesterday, but only because the clock is running down and there has been no significant movement toward a settlement.

Representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Association met with the management bargaining unit for two hours yesterday at the Intercontinental Hotel, discussing a long list of lesser issues that further illustrated the wide philosophical gap that has to be closed to avert a strike.

The players and owners are far apart on everything from the minimum salary to the working conditions in spring training, so it is no wonder they aren't even talking about ownership's salary cap proposal -- the only make-or-break issue in this labor dispute.

"No progress was made on the critical economic issue," ownership negotiator Richard Ravitch said. "We remain exactly where we have been, at a point where the players will not address the problems of the game."

In short, the players will not agree to negotiate a salary cap and the owners have no other player compensation proposal that they are interested in pursuing. The situation is deteriorating because every day that passes without movement increases the likelihood of a lengthy players strike.

Union director Donald Fehr also expressed doubt that any progress will be made before the strike deadline arrives Friday. He characterized the players as "resigned" to the probability of a strike.

There seems to be little room to hope that the dispute will be settled by Friday, because it likely would take that long just to work out the kind of smaller details that were discussed yesterday.

There will be another round of small-group meetings today, and a full bargaining session tentatively is scheduled for tomorrow, but it has reached the point where the only acceptable concession from either side is viewed as a surrender by the other.

Fehr was asked again yesterday if there was any percentage of revenue that would persuade the players union to accept the system proposed by ownership.

"No, unless it got to the point where it equals fair market value," Fehr said, "and then there would be no reason to make the proposal, because the only reason they are doing this is to reduce the amount they spend on salaries."

Ravitch is similarly entrenched. There were rumors over the weekend that the owners were preparing to make a new proposal, but he said yesterday that there would be no change in the management bargaining position.

"We're very flexible about how to address the problem," Ravitch said, "but we aren't going to negotiate with ourselves. The owners do not anticipate putting a new proposal on the table."

The only major development since Friday was the statement by acting commissioner Bud Selig that the number of teams losing money was far lower than management previously had reported.

The owners had tried to make their case for a salary cap with individual club projections that showed that 19 teams would lose money in 1994, but that case crumbled when it was leaked that the list included the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox -- two of the wealthiest teams in baseball.

Selig said over the weekend that the number probably was closer to 12 or 14, which left Ravitch with even less to justify his salary-cap proposal.

"The only bit of optimism was that the list of 19 clubs have now been reduced to 12 or 13," Fehr said. "If we can keep up that pace, maybe in a couple of weeks, we'll be all right."

That was the only light moment in another day of point/counterpoint. The owners are under no obligation to present any justification for their demands, but that negative financial data did have some public relations value.

The decision to revise the estimated number of troubled teams may be significant in itself. The owners may have taken another public relations hit because they intend to do something soon to clarify their economic situation.

If they are planning to open their books to the public, it would make sense to correct the numbers now and rob the union of chance to question the credibility of the financial statements later.

Ravitch repeated his earlier assertion that the owners have the right to bargain over the cost of doing business regardless of their financial condition, and Fehr repeated his resistance to any concept that might restrict growth of salaries.

"I can only repeat what I've said before," Fehr said. "As long as the owners are saying that they want to reduce the amount of money that goes to the players -- either as a percentage of revenues or expected gain -- I just don't know what else to do."

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