Fervor tempered on day 3

March 02, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Three days into the latest round of baseball labor negotiations, the players and owners still are on cordial speaking terms, but another lengthy meeting yesterday succeeded only in raising an obvious question.

What's really going on here?

The two negotiating teams met for six hours and talked at length about the economic issues that are keeping them apart, but the sense of optimism that surfaced after Tuesday's meetings was not as apparent when the discussions recessed late yesterday afternoon.

"Today, we dealt heavily with the core issues . . . the issues that have created the gulf between us," said acting commissioner Bud Selig. "There was a significant amount of discussion and a lot of questions. We didn't get into a lot of specifics."

A night session ended without any progress reported.

Selig continued to applaud the process yesterday, but he made a point of tempering the upbeat comments that Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris had issued the night before. McMorris was so impressed with the civil atmosphere of the talks that he told reporters a settlement could be as close as a day or two away. "Maybe because I've been through a lot more of these things than Jerry, I've learned the virtue of patience," Selig said.

No one was saying that the situation had deteriorated, just that the enthusiasm expressed by McMorris may have been premature. The talks continued in much the same manner as the day before, but they were discolored by the heightened sense of expectation that emerged on Tuesday.

"I don't want to communicate either undue optimism or pessimism," Selig said. "It is an ongoing, insightful, civil process. Nobody is holding anything back. There were a lot of probing questions either way. . . . We got right to the heart of the matter on a number of subjects."

Union director Donald Fehr also made it clear that he wasn't ready to predict an end to the dispute. He echoed many of Selig's impressions of the first three days of meetings at the Gainey Ranch Golf Club, but found McMorris' optimistic appraisal curious.

"I don't know what Jerry means," Fehr said. "If we thought we were within arm's length of a settlement, we would turn around and look for a hand to grab on to. Maybe he knows something that we don't."

Toronto Blue Jays star Paul Molitor, who took part in yesterday's negotiations, wasn't disappointed by the lack of dramatic progress.

"In my past experience, when deals have finally come to fruition, it's been about gradual momentum," Molitor said. "I think both sides moving as slowly as they have shows you that there is a sense that if anything is building, we don't want to set it back.

"I think that things could come to a head quickly. I think when things pick up a little steam, you'll see things happening, but we're not at the point where the snowball has picked up enough speed to become a snowman."

The meeting yesterday focused heavily on the economic concerns of both sides. The owners have proposed a luxury tax system that would put a drag on salaries and transfer revenues to struggling small-market franchises. The clubs also would like to eliminate salary arbitration and replace it with restricted free agency.

Union officials have lowered their resistance to a taxation plan, but are not willing to sign on to any system that significantly would inhibit salaries or the movement of free agents.

Fehr was unwilling yesterday to speculate on whether this latest attempt at a compromise will be successful.

"I don't know," he said. "The tone is different. We're talking about the remaining issues in a more focused way. But I won't be able to tell you that until we have a deal or the talks break off."

The negotiations are to continue today. Both sides say they are willing to work through the weekend to get something done in time to protect the integrity of the 1995 regular season.

Meanwhile, the owners are going ahead with their plan to use replacement players and minor-leaguers to fill their exhibition rosters.

The exhibition season opened last night in nearby Tempe with a benefit game between the California Angels and Arizona State University.

Major League Baseball also released a revised spring schedule yesterday, canceling 12 dates involving the Orioles and calling off a number of split-squad games because of dwindling minor-league rosters.

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