Voices aplenty to restart talks

August 24, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The stalled baseball negotiations are scheduled to resume today, but the federal mediation team that will bring the players and owners together for the first time in 12 days is likely to end up with a circus instead of a settlement.

There will be no starting lineups for the collective bargaining session, because an attempt by the mediators to limit the size of the expanded bargaining teams apparently met with resistance from both sides of the labor dispute. Everyone who has come to New York to assist in the negotiations is expected to be present, including all 12 ownership representatives and as many as 20 players.

"It's a rich mix," said federal mediation chief John Calhoun Wells, who met separately with the players and owners yesterday to set up today's bargaining session. "We're trying to get this thing into gear."

It could be a raucous affair, with more than enough voices to drown out any real negotiation, but the players union has long had a tradition of allowing and encouraging any interested member to attend collective bargaining sessions. The mediation team might have preferred smaller bargaining units, but the owners also wanted all of their representatives to be included.

The crowded conditions almost guarantee a spirited exchange, but there is room for concern that the presence of dozens of amateur negotiators could turn the meeting into little more than a shouting match.

"Maybe we need a little shouting," said Kansas City Royals pitcher David Cone, one of a group of 18 players to meet with the mediation team yesterday. "I know that there are fans all over America who would like to shout right now."

There certainly are fans all over the country who would like to see some progress, but it seems unlikely that there will be any major developments today. The players remain steadfast in their resistance to the ownership proposal for a revenue-based salary cap and the owners have not given any concrete indication that they are willing to give up on the notion of imposing one.

If there was any room for optimism, it required a positive interpretation of the moderate tone that Boston Red Sox CEO John Harrington took during the management news conference that followed yesterday's ownership meeting.

Harrington claimed widespread support for the current management proposal, but said there would be "no limits" on what might be talked about today -- even alternatives to the salary cap.

"We've looked at other alternatives," he said, "and we're willing to discuss them also."

The owners have taken a hard-line position toward attempts to move them off their salary cap demand, but both Harrington and chief negotiator Richard Ravitch were careful not to speak in absolute terms when they were asked if they might be willing to alter the proposal.

"I am not going to comment on that," said Ravitch, who never has ducked that question before. "I don't want to suggest that by my silence there is going to be a new proposal. I think it's fair to say that owners are not going to change their view on cost certainty."

When Harrington was asked if the owners would be coming back with a modified proposal, he replied, "Not at this time."

If that could be interpreted as an indication that the cap might come off at some later date, acting commissioner Bud Selig dismissed the notion that a change was coming.

"Clearly not," he said by telephone from Milwaukee. "The only thing you may be hearing is that the cost problem has to be dealt with and if the union has any different devices, we'd by happy to discuss them."

Ravitch joined players association head Donald Fehr and Labor Secretary Robert Reich last night on CNN, with the only revelation being that the union had submitted its own economic study to the owners Monday. The report seriously disputed management's projection that the industry would have lost $100 million if the season had run its course. But the objectivity of the report, which was created by a union-funded Stanford economist, was disputed by Ravitch.

The players can only hope for some indication that the owners are getting ready to soften their position. The baseball strike enters its 13th day today, but there still is time to salvage the 1994 season if a settlement can be reached in the next week or so.

"We've heard rumors that the owners might have a second proposal," Cone said. "That's the kind of thing we hope to find out. . . . I don't think we foresee anything spectacular happening tomorrow."

Though no one is predicting a major breakthrough, the players are hopeful that a face-to-face discussion with some of their employers might convince the owners that their salary cap proposal is never going to fly.

"If they come to the table without a salary cap, we'll start negotiating," said former Orioles pitcher Curt Schilling, now with the Philadelphia Phillies. "We're ready to negotiate around the clock, but if they want a salary cap, baseball is not going to be played, period."

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