Reaction from the baseball world was as swift as it was polarized after U.S. District Court Judge Henry F. Werker yesterday denied National Labor Relations Board's request for an injunction that would have prohibited the owners from implementing free-agent compensation until next spring.
"This takes the pressure off," said Don Fehr, general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association. "We're no longer involved with the uncertainties of litigation. . . . we'll know (today) if there will be an agreement. . . It brings things to a head and we've been ready for that for some time."
Today, representatives of owners and players are ready to resume negotiations in New York. "That's when things pick up," said Ray Grebey, chief negotiator for the owners. "Major league baseball will continue its efforts to reach a settlement at the bargaining table regardless of any strike action or any other effort by the players association to create diversions.
"It's kind of like the last of the ninth in the seventh game. It's time to throw your best pitch if you're going to do something."
Many players are not expecting progress.
"Why should they negotiate now?" said Doug DeCinces of the Baltimore Orioles, the American League player representative. "They haven't negotiated for 16 months."
"As the Beatles say, there'll be a revolution." George Foster, player representative for the Cincinnati Reds, told the Associated Press. "All the players, period, are behind the strike."
"It is the sentiment that we have to strike," Phil Garner, Pittsburgh Pirate player representative, told AP. "We've been beating our heads against the wall as much as we can, but now we have to come out fighting."
The issue dividing the owners and players is free-agent compensation. Currently, when a team loses a player to free agency, the team is compensated with a selection in the amateur draft. Under the owners' proposal, in many cases the compensation would be the 16th player on a 25-man major league roster. The players have said that such a plan is unacceptable and represents an effort by the owners to severely restrict player freedom and mobility.
Last week, the players proposed a compensation plan that the owners rejected. That plan would have created a pool of players from which teams losing a player to free agency could choose. Among the owners' objections was that the pool concept allowed for teams acquiring a free agent to avoid paying any compensation themselves.
Jerry Reuss, player representative for the Los Angeles Dodgers, suggested last night that the rejected plan could still be modified, perhaps to avert a strike. "Players don't have control of their contracts to a great degree now, anyway," Reuss told AP. "All of this is a proposal. Obviously there are a lot of things wrong with it, but it's an idea."
While none of the players contacted was pleased with the judge's denial of the NLRB's request for an injunction -- which would have put off the compensation issue until next spring -- and the immediate prospect of a strike, some saw advantages to the ruling.
"In a way it's too bad, but in another way it isn't," said Bob Boone of the Philadephia Phillies, the National League player representative. "This thing is going to have to be negotiated out regardless, so we might as well go head-to-head and try to get it over with now. We all want this thing resolved, not just postponed."
Many players are pessimistic of a settlement. "The only way a strike can be avoided is to come to a settlement," said Mark Belanger, the Orioles' player representative. "Based on what's happened in the past, I don't see much hope."
Fehr was even more direct.
"Mr. Grebey and Mr. (Baseball Commissioner Bowie) Kuhn are about to have the strike they so ardently desired," he said.