Baseball readies new lineup card

November 30, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

LEESBURG, Va. -- The deadlocked baseball negotiations resumed yesterday, but a four-hour joint session ended last night with ownership representatives renewing their threat to open the 1995 season with replacement players.

The meetings will resume this morning, but nothing has happened to change the perception that the labor dispute will enter a frightening new phase next week. Ownership spokesman John Harrington again made it clear that management will declare an impasse and implement new rules unilaterally at an ownership meeting Monday in Chicago.

He also expanded on an earlier ownership threat to open spring training camps with minor-league players if the major-leaguers fail to agree to a new compensation system.

"If we have to do that, we would do it with a great deal of reluctance," Harrington said. "We want to make a commitment to the fans that we are going to play the 1995 season with some caliber of professional baseball player. We believe it will be entertaining and is what the fans want.

"Fans want baseball with the best-quality player that we can put out there. Our preference is to put major-league players out there, but if they are unwilling to play, then we'll go with someone else."

Eugene Orza, the union's No. 2 official, called the plan to use replacements "internally inconsistent."

"Only major-league baseball players can play major-league baseball," he said. "And absent an agreement by Opening Day 1995, major-league players will be on strike."

If the debate made yesterday's negotiating session appear pointless, Harrington and his fellow owners still were holding out hope that they could persuade the Major League Baseball Players Association to sign on to a new compensation system. He warned that the alternative would not be attractive.

"It could be chaotic," he said, "but we're trying to tell the players that once we've gone past implementation, it is going to be difficult to put the yolk back in the egg."

The owners need 21 votes at Monday's meeting to implement the salary cap, but they consider approval a foregone conclusion.

As expected, the players did not come to the Lansdowne Resort and Conference Center with a counterproposal to either of the two player compensation systems that have been presented by management, so it seems unlikely that anything substantive will happen between now and the Monday meeting.

The union has an executive board meeting scheduled for the same day, and has used that as a pretext for withholding a response to the owners' plan given them 12 days ago.

While the players continue to study the cap, the owners appear ready -- and eager -- to put it into effect. Figures compiled by the Associated Press show that a number of teams will have to reduce their payrolls dramatically in the first year of a seven-year plan that will take four years to reach full effect.

The Orioles, for instance, would have to slice their payroll (which would have been $41,627,699 including benefits over a full 1994 season) by $2,461,462.

Harrington said that in the absence of a settlement, the new work rules likely would go into effect Tuesday, the day before the Dec. 7 deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to their free agents.

Players with three to four years of service will be impacted the most, since they will lose arbitration eligibility and will not yet be eligible for restricted free agency. The owners, however, have included a minimum salary scale for players with fewer than four years of service time.

The owners hope that the players will abandon resistance to the salary cap concept and end the strike in time to open spring training, but even that might not be enough to assure that the 1995 season will start on time. If the union decides to send the players back to work while it takes the dispute to the National Labor Relations Board, the owners may insist on a no-strike pledge.

"We would have to be sure they would play the whole year," Harrington said. "I tend to think it would not be fair to the fans to start the season and have it be in jeopardy on a day-to-day basis like it was last year. I don't know how the other owners feel, but I don't think it would be fair."

Philadelphia Phillies vice president David Montgomery doesn't think it is fair that the players returned to the bargaining table without any counterproposal. He, like Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten a day earlier, indicated that the decision not to respond to the management plans provides justification for the owners to impose a new system.

"We're a little dejected because we came here clearly hopeful of getting a proposal," Montgomery said. "To me, the calendar is moving away from us. . . . The goal is not to implement. The goal is to negotiate a deal. Implementation is merely a tool to help us get an agreement. If we don't get a proposal, we don't have any choice but to use it."

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