'Candid' meeting spurs optimism, not progress

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

RYE BROOK, N.Y. -- Negotiating teams in the Major League Baseball strike finally returned to the bargaining table yesterday, and both sides expressed hope that their six-hour discussion will be a prelude to more serious talks.

Special mediator William J. Usery brought the bargaining units together at the Doral Arrowwood Conference Center outside New York for a series of meetings that could last through the weekend. No progress was reported but -- unlike previous attempts at negotiation -- both sides appeared eager to meet again today.

"I would characterize the meeting as very constructive," said Usery, who was asked to intervene by the Clinton administration. "We have a long way to go to reach an agreement, but we had an open and frank discussion and hopefully it will lead us toward a new collective bargaining agreement."

"There was nothing shocking or surprising, but we had a good, candid meeting," said Major League Baseball Players Association associate general counsel Gene Orza, who conceded that he was "slightly" more optimistic than before. "I think we were better off for having this meeting."

Usery apparently convinced acting commissioner Bud Selig to appoint Boston Red Sox general partner John Harrington chairman of the six-owner bargaining committee.

Perhaps Usery recognized that growing animosity between chief negotiator Richard Ravitch and union chief Donald Fehr was an obstacle, or perhaps he was just trying to alter the chemistry of the negotiations.

The immediate effect was speculation that Ravitch had been pushed out of the picture -- a perception reinforced by Ravitch's conspicuous silence throughout the bargaining session and his absence from the post-bargaining news conference.

"He didn't say a word the whole time," said Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling. "He just sat there."

Harrington and Ravitch both insist that nothing has changed.

There had been speculation that the owners would present a new proposal this weekend, but it appears that the mediator will take a more incremental approach to the negotiations.

The owners have not withdrawn their salary cap proposal. They can't if they hope to declare an impasse and impose it later. But Harrington said that they would again examine various other methods of containing costs.

Usery is believed to be pushing the owners toward one of the taxation plans that was discussed but dismissed earlier in the negotiations. It still is highly questionable whether one of them could be configured to satisfy both sides.

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