Talks between representatives of the baseball owners and players broke off indefinitely today after 10 minutes of face-to-face negotiations.
"When asked by both sides if I would be calling a meeting this weekend, I said there was no way I was going to unless there was some indication from one side or another of some movement," said Kenneth E. Moffett, federal mediator.
"It's kind of futile and sort of stupid to go through this charade of getting together on a regular basis when there is no movement."
Bob Boone of the Philadelphia Phillies, the National League player representative, said, "To come back and put on a charade that there's lots of positive things happening in these meetings would be fruitless."
A message scrawled on a doily in the negotiating room said it all: "No runs, no hits," no progress.
Although Moffeff said he would be in touch with the parties over the weekend, one source close to the negotiations said he doubted there would be any meetings before Wednesday, when the owners are scheduled to meet in Kansas City. "If the owners' position remains the same, the whole year is shot," the source said.
After the session ended, one by one the players representing the union -- Mark Belanger of the Orioles, Rusty Staub of the Mets, Tom Seaver of the Reds, Steve Rogers of the Expos and Boone -- come forward to discuss their frustration and their feeling that the strike, now in its eighth day, was orchestrated by the owners. Where previously they had been low-key, almost mild in their remarks, the players were grim and angry today.
After refusing to answer reporters' questions, Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, issued a statement saying that the talks had been suspended at the request of the players. He said the talks should continue, "although the conditions placed on an acceptable resolution of the issue are insurmountable."
Gripping his ever-present cigar, Seaver took on Grebey.
"The position I feel Ray Grebey has taken is absolutely destructive," Seaver said. "To go up there and supposedly look for a positive meeting, and sit down for 10 minutes, and find out there is absolutely nothing new to be said from the ownership side (that) the position is the same it has been for the last 18 months, leads me to believe that a strike was forced, it was planned, and that the owners have planned for it, in the sense that they took out their $50 million of insurance . . . I think if they are trying to alienate the players, they are doing a good job."
The owners' strike insurance is scheduled to take effect on Wednesday, which would be the 13th days of the strike, after the 152nd game lost because of the strike. Since the strike began a week ago today, 100 games have been lost, and the parties have met face to face for exactly 2 hours 10 minutes, about the time it takes to play an average game.
Belanger, the Orioles' player representative, said, "We have made numerous proposals to meet their states objectives. They have been turned down. We are tired of that. Eighteen months ago, there was a proposal put on the table.It's still there. We rejected it 18 months ago. We reject it now. As long as it remains on the table, we'll remain on strike."
The proposal he was referring to is the owners' plan for free-agent compensation, which would give the team losing a quality free agent the right to select the 16th man off the other team's roster.
Two weeks ago, the players offered a proposal for pooled compensation that they modified the day before the strike. The owners have rejected both proposals.
Boone, a graduate of Stanford who often has acted as the players' spokesman, said, "We've addressed their stated aim . . . that they must get equity back for a quality free agent." But, he said, the players cannot accept a proposal that would penalize the team signing the free agent, because that, he said, would have a direct affect on player salaries.
"We're fresh out of ideas," he said.
One source gave the following scenario for the break in negotiations: The players told the owners, "When you're ready to talk, let us know."
To which Grebey replied, "You mean, you're calling off negotiations?" The players said, "No, have you got anything new?"
The answer was also no. That spelled stalemate.
Moffett said there had been indications of some movement today. "Obviously, that fell through. I have no idea why."
There had been reports that the owners were going to present a comprehensive new proposal. Asked who he expected the movement from, Moffett replied, "I expected some from both sides. Is that a good mediator's answer?"
Moffett said that round-the-clock negotiations would be "absolutely useless . . . if there is nothing to talk about.
"What I see is a waiting game, a long waiting game."
The players seem to feel that way. "When you put all the things into a pot that have happened the last 18 months, it certainly looks like a waiting game on their part," Boone said, "-- waiting for us to quit."
The players have often said that they believe the owners' unstated aim is to break the union by a prolonged strike. Staub said as much today. "No matter how much they say they don't want a strike, that they are not trying to break this association, it's kind of hard for us to believe."
Staub said that there were no indications that the players were losing their faith, only indications that they are becoming "more and more aggravated."
He shrugged and sighed. "The numbers in baseball have never been better for both sides. This is strictly a matter of greed."
It was the only thing both sides probably could have agreed on today