LEESBURG, Va. -- The deadlocked baseball negotiations resumed yesterday, but a four-hour joint session ended last night with the owners one day closer to implementing their modified salary cap proposal.
The meetings were expected to resume last night and may continue today, but nothing happened to change the perception that the labor dispute will enter a new phase next week. Ownership spokesman John Harrington again made it clear that management will declare an impasse and implement new work rules unilaterally at an ownership meeting Monday in Chicago.
If that 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 player 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. The schedule of that meeting calls for a briefing of general managers on the operational aspects of the new plan even before it comes to an ownership vote.
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 a modified version of the owners' original salary cap proposal or the taxation plan that was presented with it 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, will 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.
"Certainly before Wednesday," he said.
The immediate impact of implementation will be on the general managers and players in arbitration eligible service classes. 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.
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 they take the dispute to the National Labor Relations Board, the owners may insist on a no-strike pledge before allowing them to return.
"We would have to be sure they would play the whole year," Harrington said. "We would not have to lock them out, but we would have to have assurances. 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."
Still, yesterday's joint meeting lasted much longer than anyone expected. No one really believed that the players would come in with a counterproposal, but special mediator William J. Usery kept both sides behind closed doors in separate and joint sessions all day -- hammering away at the specifics of the management proposals.
Union director Donald Fehr admitted afterward that the players had learned some things that they didn't previously know, but would not say whether that would alter their course of action.