Deadlocked in negotiations with owners for a new contract, major league baseball players are expected today to overwhelmingly approve a strike, with only the date for a work stoppage in question.
The executive board of the Major League Baseball Players Association, representing each of baseball's 26 teams, will meet at 1 p.m. in Dallas to determine whether and when to strike.
Team representatives enter the meeting armed with a 967-1 vote by other players authorizing them to call a strike, the second by players in the game's history, if approved.
Marvin Miller, executive director of the players' union, said, "I don't intend to make any recommendations (on a strike). It's up to the players."
Four dates have been mentioned as possible strike dates -- today; April 9, the scheduled season-opener; Memorial Day, when attendance traditionally begins climbing, and July 10, immediately after the All-Star Game. A mid- or late-season strike date would hurt the owners more financially, the players reason.
Asked if he expected a long strike, Miller said, "I certainly don't anticipate a short one, not if (the owners) have the strike insurance I keep hearing about. I think they are doing everything possible to provoke a strike."
The owners have reportedly purchased strike insurance with a $3.5 million strike fund that has been built up during the past few years.
Ray Grebey, head of the Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee, the owners' unit, could not be reached for comment. He was en route home from Palm Springs where both sides in the dispute met with a federal mediator on Sunday.
Kenneth E. Moffett, deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, met for nearly nine hours with the two sides after the FMCS was called in by the owners.
"I'll be in touch with both sides after (today)," Moffett said. "I would have to say the meeting (Sunday) was basically one where we explored the (free agent) compensation issue, which seems to be the most important issue on both sides. It's the only issue we really went into.
"We made no progress as far as coming to an agreement on this issue is concerned. A lot of suggestions were made in both private caucuses and in joint meetings. Neither side made any concession. It's going to take a while. There's about a hundred issues and we only talked about one.
Moffett was referring to the owners' proposal to alter the kind of compensation a team gets after losing a free agent. The owners want a team signing a highly sought free agent to give up a player, rather than an amateur draft choice, in return. The free agent's new team could protect only 15 players on its roster in the process.
In the long run, the proposal is expected to curb the high-stakes free agent market since few teams would be willing to give up unprotected players of comparable talent.
The last players' strike was in 1972 and lasted 13 days, forcing the cancellation of 86 games.