There was a lot of talk, apparently little of it substantive, as the baseball negotiations resumed yesterday in New York. Representatives for the owners and players met in an effort to avert a strike by the Major League Players Association on May 29, but they reached agreement on only one thing: There now is little basis for an agreement and little basis for optimism.
Why, then, will negotiations continue today? On that, the parties agreed. Said Don Fehr, general counsel for the players association, "because the mediator said he wanted to."
Marvin Miller, the executive director of the players association, said, "At this time, I don't have any basis for saying that the situation has improved. I think both Ray Grebey (the owners' chief negotiator) and (Commissioner) Bowie Kuhn are attempting to bring on a strike. Each of them, in trying to sell an agreement last spring, told the owners, 'We've got (partial) compensation (when a free agent signs with another club).' If the owners pressed them for details, I think they said, 'It's gonna be.'
"Grebey and Kuhn should have known that that kind of compensation arrangement could not be gotten in peaceful negotiation. But they led their owners to believe it had.
"Now they have two choices. The could admit they never got compensation and end up with egg on their faces, or they can bull their way through with a strike and hope they can get it that way."
Grebey characterized Miller's comments as "grossly inaccurate statements by a person not involved in our internal process and therefore someone who speaks from ignorace. It is predictable and expected from the director of the players association."
Grebey said Miller has dealt in personalities "in an effort to provoke divisiveness among management. He hopes the divisiveness will remove the necessity to bargain over the issue."
The issue -- compensation for free agents -- has proved an emotional and intractable one since a strike was averted last May 23. On Tuesday, the owners offered some modifications of the performance criteria by which free agents would be ranked, their first such proposal since negotiations resumed.
The players responded to that proposal yesterday.
Grebey said, "Admittedly, nothing is perfect but such criticism does not lead to a settlement. What is needed is a constructive effort, working ahead to a satisfactory agreement. The players association has set a standard for settlement which is both unrealistic and unobtainable."
The feeling undoubtedly is mutual.
"The players association's announced goal is a compensation plan which would not impact on even a single player," Grebey said. "Such an objective makes a mockery of our conciliatory effort to reach an agreement and of good faith bargaining."
Miller says that the owners want a compensation plan so broad that 50 percent of the players would be considered ranking free agents, that the real objective is not to compensate teams for the loss of a premier free agent but to drive down salaries. "What they gave us Tuesday left intact all the compensation yolks," Miller said, adding, "They did put in performance statistics but (for example) they didn't put in any minimum on at bats."
So, for example, said Fehr, Brian Downing, the catcher of the California Angels, who appeared because of injuries, would have ranked 10th among catchers due to his .290 batting average and a .419 slugging average.
The players' latest proposal offered a definition of a quality free agent based on performance criteria, such as election to the All-Star team, finish in Cy Young Award and MVP balloting. The owners dismissed the proposal as "insulting."
Grebey said if the players want to wait "to the last minute to see if there is any thought that the owners will 'collapse,' there will be no settlement."
Asked to comment on Grebey's statements, Fehr said, "Propaganda."