Representatives of the baseball owners and the players met yesterday for two hours and the only good thing that could be said afterward was, thank goodness it's Friday.
Federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett recessed the negotiations indefinitely and said it was unlikely that any talks would be held today. "Both sides are locked in," he said. "Both probably just ran out of gas."
Asked if the situation had deteriorated, Don Dehr, general Counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said, "It's hard for things to deteriorate any further. We're certainly no closer to a settlement than we were two weeks ago."
Given that glum assessment, the owners had to be delighted as a U.S. District Court judge in Philadelphia dissolved a temporary restraining ordered issued by a lower court judge, thereby allowing Lloyds of London to resume making payments to the owners on their $50 million strike insurance.
Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, said, "It certainly begins to indicate the propriety of our position when two federal judges see no merit in the allegation that there was failure to bargain in good faith. Those are diversionary tactics to keep everyone's eyes away from the issue, which won't succeed."
But the negotiators weren't succeeding, either. Asked if he was encouraged or discouraged by yesterday's meetings, Grebey said, "No comment," then said he was encouraged by the fact that during a discussion of the owners' statistical method for ranking free agents, the players said that issue was not a major obstacle to a settlement.
Steve Rogers, player representative of the Expos, said he was discouraged that too much time was spent discussing things that have no bearing on a settlement -- "statistical rankings, etcetera."
After what Fehr described as "some frank talks about where the negotiations were not going," Fehr said, "Steve told Grebey that on the issues of the level of compensation and who pays it the owners appear set in stone and unless that changes we can't see any way out. Steve asked if he had any new ideas. Grebey said no."
One source close to the players association said, "When they have something to talk about, we'll be there to talk. We're not interested in engaging in meaningless talks for the purpose of Grebey telling his constituents that progress is being made. The progress made Thursday impressed Bob Boone and Mark Belanger so much they didn't bother to show up."
Meanwhile, the "judicial, legal, psychodrama," as it was described by umpires' attorney Richie Phillips, continued in Phildelphia.
U.S. District Court Judge Donald Van Artsdalen ruled that there was "no legal basis, either under federal or state law," to issue the injunction requested by the umpires, enjoining Lloyds of London from making strike insurance payments to the owners.
Van Artsdalen said that the umpires, who are paid for the first 30 days of the strike, are incurring no damages, "whatever, except that they are on a forced paid vacation."
Lloyds said Thursday that the strike payments -- $100,000 per game per day to be split between the home and away club -- would be put in an escrow account until the injunction request was resolved. James A. Greer, a New York attorney for Lloyds, said today that $442,400 (other insurers are responsible for 45 percent of each day's payments) had been paid to the owners before the suit. None of the funds were actually diverted into the escrow account because, Greer said, by the time ti was set up, the order was dissolved.
The suit, which had been brought in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, was moved to federal court under a motion by Michael Gallagher, Lloyds lawyer, Phillips requested the case be remanded to state court on the ground that there are no federal questions involved. A hearing on that matter will begin Monday at 9 a.m.
Phillips said that if the petition is denied by Van Artsdalen, he will appeal.
"It's the only time ever that an insurance company has said, 'Please let us pay,'" Phillips said. "What they said in court was that they didn't want Lloyds perceived as hiding behind a court order."
There was some speculation that the Player Relations Committee had exerted pressure on Lloyds to contest the action, a charge Grebey denied. Greer said, "I wouldn't have any idea (whether there was pressure). Whether there was or not, they (Lloyds) would have fought it anyway."
Gallagher argued that the proper jurisdiction for an unfair labor practice suit -- one of the umpires' allegations -- is the National Labor Relations Board.
Daniel Silverman, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in New York, announced that the NLRB hearing on the unfair labor practice charge brought by the players association has been postponed until July 6 because of a request by the owners, who earlier asked for a two-month extension.
So, the legal goose chase continues. After the matter had been taken out of his hands, Judge Stanley Greenberg of the court of Common Pleas said, "I never dreamed that in my courtroom I would have not only one umpire but a whole umpires' association, and maybe I could say, 'You're out.'"
Greenberg denied that the two Philadelphia Phillies pennants adorning the bench had been put up for this occasion and said his intent in issuing the order was to stimulate the negotiations.Since he had issued the order, he said, both sides appeared "more serious."
It was the wishful thinking of a true fan.