If Bowie Kuhn's position carries weight, as it has in the past, then the resolution of baseball's current labor struggle probably will include partial compensation for teams that lose free agents.
The commissioner of baseball staked out several fundamental philosophical positions today regarding owner-player negotiations and what he would consider best for baseball's future.
"I think that partial compensation (an owner's proposal) is definitely needed and probably some form of salary scales, too," said Kuhn, who was here to watch the Baltimore Orioles open their Grapefruit League season with a 5-4 win over Texas.
"There simply has to be some tapering off in player salaries. Financially, baseball could live where it is today, even with million-dollar-a-year contracts.
"But, unless some mechanism is found, salaries won't stay where they are.
"So far, baseball's ticket prices during this free-agent era have not even kept pace with inflation rates. But, at some point, the fan is going to have to pay, and that's when the game will be hurt.
"It's obvious to me that the open marketplace will never take care of putting a ceiling on salaries. Supply and demand won't do it. Within the family of baseball, there's a large gap between the most and the least prosperous.
"Competition is so intense for players, that the more prosperous are just going to keep driving salaries up in the bidding."
Traditionally, Kuhn has been considered an advocate for the owners, since they hired him. However, in recent years he has shown more independence, even opposing the owners during 1976's labor problems when he ordered all spring training camps open after an owners' lock out.
"I believe that free-agency was a quite inevitable development," said Kuhn, who never would have admitted to such a thought five years ago. "In fact, if I could unilaterally abolish it tomorrow, I wouldn't.
"But some modifications in the system are essential. The last basic agreement was clearly labeled as "experimental." Partial compensation would be a constructive thing and I very much hope that we will see it during my time as commissioner."
Kuhn's position is particularly interesting because it assumes, as the owners do, that compensation and salary scales should be taken for granted as a starting point for negotiation, with the details of those new systems being the grist of the bargaining.
The players association regards both proposals as anathema, even in broad theory.
"I am very involved in the negotiations, but I don't anticipate using the broad powers of the commissionership to take any actions," said Kuhn. "If I thought the owners were wrong, as I did in '76, I would find ways to let them know that I did not think their position was workable.
"However, I think they are being very realistic this time. They are not standing in the way of the start of the season. Their proposals, I think, attempt to be reasonable.
"I can't foresee any set of circumstances that would make me take a position contrary to that of the Player Relations Committee (the owners' body)," Kuhn said.
Translated, that means Kuhn is four square behind the owners this time.
This could be viewed cynically as an example of Kuhn acting as management mouthpiece. More likely, Kuhn has made his feelings known behind the scenes and the owners' proposals reflect his opinions and input.
"I see no basis for a strike, therefore I don't believe, at this time, that there will be one," said Kuhn.
Players fear that, if a new contract were not signed, the owners might attempt to declare an impasse, and thus pave the way for wiping out past union gains.