The on-again, off-again baseball negotiations are off again. Early yesterday, the 11th day of the baseball strike, federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett announced that negotiations would be resumed today in New York. Three hours later, Moffett's office announced there would be no meetng after all.
When the talks broke off Friday, Moffett said he would not call any more meetings until he heard something positive from both sides. So, when he made the initial announcement of meetings today, reporters immediately deduced that something was happening. And when the meeting was canceled, one wire service reported: "A brief ray of hope . . . has been shattered."
Meanwhile, Don Fehr, the general counsel of the Major League Baseball Player Association, said yesterday afternoon: 'We haven't heard anything about any meeting except through the press."
No new date for resumption of talks was given and no explanation of the cancellation was given. If it was wrong to assume there had been movement when the meeting was announced, it would be wrong to assume there was some great significance to the cancellation. It may have had something to do with the fact that Moffett had been up all weekend in round-the-clock negotiations with the air traffic controllers.
Such are the pressures to find something happening, anything happening, in a situation where clearly very little is happening. The parties are deadlocked. As Calvin Griffith, a member of the executive board of the Player Relations Committee, said: "It's like two soldiers in foxholes facing each other. Both are absolutely convinced that he has God on his side."
The longer the strike goes on, the more it becomes a war, as one of the participants put it, requiring more drastic measures. The players association is reportedly considering suing the owners and several television networks, contending that the players have a right to share in the television revenues.
Fehr would not comment on the reports.
The issue is whether the 26 clubs have the right to sell the pictures, images and performances of the players to television -- local, national, cable and pay -- independent of the players.
The question of who has the right to sell baseball to television has been in dispute for some time and the players association reportedly has considered a suit for some time. The current basic agreement stipulates that any dispute relating to television rights must be settled in court and cannot go to arbitration.
The issue has never been fully litigated in team sports, according to Larry Fleisher, executive director of the NBA Players Association. In 1979, Fleisher said, the NBA Players Association sued the league in federal district court in New York, on behalf of three players, claiming that three cable television companies had used their likenesses without their permission.
But the suit withdrawn as part of the collective bargaining agreement of June 1980, with the stipulation that the players cannot bring it again for five years. Fleisher said: "I think the baseball have a very good chance of winning it.It's a unique question. It has not come up before. Based on the memos we did at the time, I'd say they have a better than even chance of winning."
Fleisher said the baseball players reportedly have retained the same lawyer who handled the NBA suit.
James Quinn, then the lawyer for the NBA players, declined to comment on any similar suit in baseball.