Baseball talks hit snag -- again

March 03, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Once again, the baseball labor talks have moved across the emotional spectrum, this time from hope to despair. Negotiations have deteriorated to the point where it seems unlikely that the 1995 season will be spared the prospect of replacement ball.

"We're right back to the bottom of the barrel," said Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, who personally had heightened the level of expectation with a optimistic appraisal of the situation Tuesday.

His outlook changed after a meeting late Wednesday in which both sides tried to sort out their differences. McMorris came away feeling that the players union was unwilling to establish a clear bargaining position.

Major League Baseball Players Association director Donald Fehr came away with a far different impression, and even hinted that the union might be ready to present something new today, but the owners were so discouraged that acting commissioner Bud Selig and management bargaining chief John Harrington packed up and went home.

McMorris will remain with a smaller ownership group to try to jump-start the stalled negotiations today, but he indicated that he will leave town soon if the union doesn't show a willingness to begin serious horse trading.

"[Wednesday] afternoon we got bogged down and last night things began to go downhill," McMorris said. "If we can't get past revenue-sharing, we're never going to get to the point of getting the regular players on the field."

In his frustration, McMorris also wondered aloud whether it might be time to shake up the management negotiating team if the conciliatory approach taken over the past 10 days does not soon lead to significant progress.

"The moderates have tried to move things along," he said. "We're probably at a point where the baton needs to be passed to different owners and different attorneys."

Pressed for specific names, he mentioned Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, considered the leader of a cadre of teams willing to go to almost any length to regain control over the game's economic structure. The owners also may turn their labor strategy over to Nashville management attorney Robert Ballow, who has a reputation for playing hardball with unions.

The message was clear -- and perhaps even orchestrated. The union's window of opportunity is closing, and the time to cut a deal may never be better. If these negotiations break off, there will be little chance to avoid an Opening Day tainted with replacement players and picketing by proxy. If the season starts with strike breakers, the owners may decide that they have nothing left to lose and go for total victory.

Fehr characterized yesterday's blowup as a normal "blip" in a long and grueling collective bargaining process. He said that his impression of the Wednesday night meeting was more positive, and that he woke up yesterday thinking that it might lead to more meaningful discussions.

Instead, talks never really resumed.

The negotiating teams each met among themselves early in the day, then Selig and the ownership committee went to the union headquarters hotel for a 90-minute meeting that failed to resolve anything.

"We've had some pretty low times before," Harrington said, "but we had some expectations this time, so it was a long ride down."

McMorris, the most upbeat member of the ownership committee, was left to wonder how he could have misread the situation so badly.

"I think I was used," McMorris said. "I was given the false sense that we could get something done."

WHAT'S NEXT

The baseball labor negotiations are going nowhere -- again. Yesterday, acting commissioner Bud Selig and management bargaining chief John Harrington left Scottsdale, Ariz.

Coming up: Talks will continue today with a smaller ownership contingent. Union director Donald Fehr hinted that the union might come forward with some new ideas, but neither side has made a new proposal in nearly a month.

What's down the line? The owners are scheduled to meet next week in Palm Beach, Fla. to discuss expansion. Selig said that meeting would go on as scheduled regardless of the progress of the current talks.

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