Owners to get moderate push to settle

August 29, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Negotiators for striking players and major-league owners are expected to return to the bargaining table this week, but their presence there won't be what's important. It's what they bring with them that will count.

Along with the parties in the labor dispute, federal mediators know that the next two weeks will be critical if any more baseball is to be played in this interrupted season.

"If nothing significant happens this week or next, forget it," said one neutral observer of the dispute.

The chance of anything happening, significant or otherwise, depends on the positions of the two sides. If each clings tightly to its stance, the owners holding strong for a salary cap, the players just as strongly rejecting it, the negotiators can meet and adjourn with no more progress than they have made since June 14, the day the salary cap landed with a thud on the table.

Is there, on the other hand, something that could happen to unlock the rigid positions?

The players have a strong track record for perseverance. They might bend, but they don't break in labor negotiations.

The owners, who have a track record for surrender, say they are solidly united this time. That's only true on the surface, though. The primary reason they are able to maintain their bargaining position is that the owners of low-revenue clubs and other hard-liners are in control; the owners who would abandon it for a conciliatory approach are a minority.

The moderate owners are prepared to settle for less than a salary cap, by whatever name, and get back to the season. Despite their minority status, they may soon move to try to alter the management position.

"We're frustrated with this whole process," said a high-ranking club executive. "We're frustrated that there's no reason being put on the table."

A part-owner of another club, Charlie Monfort of the Colorado Rockies, spoke up the other day. The club's controlling owner, Jerry McMorris, already was being viewed as one of the key moderates who would rescue the 1994 season.

Monfort, in an interview with the Greeley (Colo.) Tribune, spoke of frustration, too. The frustration stems from the control the little guys hold over the big guys. It has always been the other way around, but now the low-revenue clubs swing the big stick because they have, at the least, the eight votes necessary to block an agreement.

The low-revenue clubs don't necessarily care about a salary cap, but they want money from the high-revenue clubs, and the only way they can get it is if the players accept a cap. Therefore, they cling to the cap.

Monfort was asked about revenue sharing.

"That pitch doesn't jell well with me," he said in the article. "I think it's past mistakes that have cost some of these teams. The San Diego Padres drew 2.3 million fans three years ago. Now that they're drawing what they're drawing, it's mismanagement and has nothing to do with how San Diego can draw baseball fans. And I don't think they should be subsidized for mismanagement."

The moderates, though, won't have an easy time budging the majority. Eight clubs clearly would favor a change at this point: the New York Mets and Yankees; Los Angeles Dodgers; Rockies; Orioles; Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; and Florida Marlins. An attractive new idea could draw support from some other clubs, but one of the key factors in an attempted move could be the position of David Glass, the chairman of the Kansas City Royals.

Glass, who in the real world is also president of Wal-Mart Stores, has been involved in baseball for less than a year, but he has quickly gained the respect of owners and management officials.

Because he's the No. 1 man on the club that plays in the smallest market in the majors, Glass could be pivotal in any debate to alter the proposal.

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