Baseball talks head nowhere

August 11, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Orioles return to Camden Yards tonight to face the Boston Red Sox, but it figures to be a short homestand.

The strike deadline set by the Major League Baseball Players Association passes after the completion of today's games, and there appears to be no hope of a quick end to baseball's labor dispute.

Union and owner representatives met for two hours yesterday at the Intercontinental Hotel, hoping that something would change the chemistry of the frozen collective bargaining negotiations, but baseball appears doomed to begin its eighth work stoppage in 23 seasons tomorrow. No further meetings have been scheduled, and the two chief negotiators -- union director Donald Fehr and management's Richard Ravitch -- left room to wonder if a settlement would be reached before the rest of the 1994 season is wiped out.

"At this point, I have no reason to think that anything of significance will occur any time soon," Mr. Fehr said. "I told Dick that this reminds me of 1981, because the owners are exactly where they want to be."

The reference to 1981 was particularly ominous, because that was the year that the players staged a 50-day strike rather than make concessions that they felt would destroy the free-agent market. The owners this year have made a salary-cap proposal that also would threaten the market value of free agents.

"It strikes me as a terrible shame that the owners want to put the players in this position," Mr. Fehr said. "It strikes me as a terrible shame that the owners can't figure out a way to divide up $1.8 billion in revenues among themselves, so they have to push the players into a strike."

Mr. Ravitch said: "We were reminded once again that the players do not respond to our concerns, except to say that they want to continue with the current system and make more and more money out of it."

The owners are pressing for a salary cap to create "cost certainty." They have offered the players a proposal that calls for a 50-50 split of all revenues, but that would be a reduction from the 58 percent of revenues that currently go toward players' salaries and benefits. The players countered with a proposal that did not address the salary cap and called for improvements in the compensation system, leaving an ideological gulf that will be difficult to cross.

"We continue to hope that, as Don once put it, lightning will strike and one of us will come up with an idea that will bridge this gap in the next day and a half," Mr. Ravitch said, "but I am not optimistic."

Yesterday's bargaining session was attended by several Orioles, including player representative Mike Mussina, alternate rep Jim Poole, Harold Baines, Mike Devereaux, Mark McLemore, Jamie Moyer, Mark Williamson and Arthur Rhodes.

Mr. Ravitch appealed to them to recognize the economic problems that face the game but found that the level of skepticism has increased since acting Commissioner Bud Selig recently reduced management projections on the number of teams losing money this year from 19 to 14.

"I think that if they had the facts or any other way of attempting to prove what they are saying, we would listen," Mr. Mussina said, "but they have made no attempt to prove what they are saying."

The owners still say that if the 1994 season ran its course, they would suffer combined operating losses of $100 million. The proof, however, may be in their resolve once the players pack up and go home after today's games.

Both sides have prepared for a lengthy strike. The players have an estimated $175 million strike fund. The owners have a $260 million line of credit available to every team.

"Ravitch told us that strikes occur when one side underestimates the other," said Mr. Poole. "In this case, I think he is underestimating us. I don't think he knows the history of our union. Players 20 years ago stood up for us, and we want players 20 years from now to look at us the same way."

The only meeting that has been scheduled during the remainder of this week is an owners' conference call involving the 28 clubs tomorrow, but that apparently is only to discuss technical issues relating to a work stoppage. Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos said he did not think there would be any discussion of ownership's bargaining position.

"Presumably, the Executive Council is in touch with Ravitch, and that is the mechanism to represent everybody," Mr. Angelos said. "Everything gets done in that fashion. We've developed an approach -- one that is supported by all 28 clubs -- and they are in the process of implementing it."

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