It is the longest, dullest saddest scoreless tie in baseball history. The 18-day-old strike has become a waiting game. Pressure for a settlement should be mounting.
"It's a stange kind of strike," said Eddie Chiles, the owner of the Texas Rangers. "We're just sitting here today and we'll probably be sitting here tomorrow. No one seems terribly excited. I think there's been lots of miscalculations -- miscalculations on both sides -- pertaining to the strike. Maybe that's one reason the principals seem so flabergasted. . . I just think both sides underestimated the other one, as far as their determination and their willingness to sit it out."
No one is willing to predict publicly just how there have been murmurings for weeks that the players are willing to sit out the rest of the season, if they have to, over the principle of freeagent compensation. Management types don't blanch at the suggestion.
One of the biggest miscalculations may have been the owners' failure to understand the players' militancy on this issue. It has been suggested that the rank and file is even more militant than its bargaining committee: On strike, shut it down, free the Major League 650.
If the owners have underestimated the players' resolve, then perhaps when the realization that they're not caving sinks in, management will feel compelled to make a move.
On the other hand, many players have held off taking full-time jobs, an indication that they have not yet accepted the idea of a strike of an indefinite length. According to Lyn Watner of Baltimore's Personal Management Associates, only half of the 25 to 30 major league players the firm represents are looking for jobs. "They're still hopeful," she said.
Certainly, the owners seem prepared for the long haul.
Fortified with strike insurance and yet another judicial decision that points to the righteousness of their ways, Ray Grebey and the owners' Player Relations Committee seem entrenched. The abortive attempt to hasten the end of the strike by Chiles, Orioles' owner Edward Bennett Williams and Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner (reportedly gone back to the other side) was a classic case of too little, too early.
Now, they are ostracized. Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, remains in control with, by his estimate, the allegiance of 24 of 26 owners.
So, what you look for are pressure points, something to break the stalemate.
So far, sources say, there haven't been any. The July 4th weekend? The All-Star Game? The attitude seems to be: so what?
As the Twins' Clark Griffith II, a member of the Player Relations Committee, said last week, "It's like two soldiers in foxholes facing each other. Both are absolutely convinced he has God on their side.
Neither has blinked.
When they do, what will be needed is a face-saving proposal. Grebey would be able to tell his supporters, "Look, I've got compensation," and Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, could tell the players, "Don't worry, it's okay."
If everyone could agree on that, the rest would be a piece of cake. Compromises are easy to find, when you want to find them.
So far, no one does.
The owners have clung to the premise that compensation must come directly from the team signing the free agent; the players have clung to the premise that it must not (direct compensation would lower salaries and inhibit bargaining power, they say). Which explains why last week's proposals and counterproposals amounted to zilch.
On Wednesday, the owners proposed reducing the percentage of players requiring free-agent compensation from the top 50 percent in performance statistics to the top 40 percent. A club losing a Type A free agent -- one falling in the top 25 percent -- could sign the 16th-best player on the roster of the team signing him. A club losing a Type B free agent -- one falling in the 25-40 percent category -- could sign the 21st-best player as compensation.
Previously, a club signing a Type B free agent would have give up its 19th player. The owners also offered to put a cap on the number of Type B free agents: 14 minus the number of Type A free agents.
The players dismissed the proposal as insignificant. The next day, they offered four modifications of their pooled compensation proposal: They suggested that the owners protect any 36 players out of their system, with the remaining players going into a pool from which a team losing a free agent could select. Previously, the players had suggested the bottom four players on a team's 40-man roster go into the pool.
Ranked free agents would be determined on the basis of performance statistics -- plate appearances for batters, innings pitched for starting pitchers and relief appearances for relief pitchers -- compiled over the last two years prior to free agency, as opposed to three years, as the owners suggested.
Grebey said the proposal did not "provide the framework for a settlement."
One scenario: the players would agree to a cap on the number of free agents requiring compensation.The owners have maintained their proposal would affect only "one-half of one percent of players," as Griffith said last week. "Only three players would have been affected last year."
If that's the case, why not put a limit on the number to be affected each year? "You can't put in a system that is based on three to five players," Griffith said. "Some years it might be zero."
That was before the owners agreed to a maximum on Type B free agents. Instead of putting a maximum on Type B free agents, put a maximum on all of them. That would be a giant step forward, in the opinion of one source close to the negotiations.
If that number could be found, the players might well accept direct compensation. The owners would undoubtedly want a player off the 25-man roster. How low would the players go? Perhaps they would accept compensation in the 30-35-man range off a 40-man roster.
Would the owners accept that? Is there a number in the middle? Who knows?
"Maybe the way things are turning out, the strike wasn't really worthwhile in the first place," said Chiles. "Maybe it shouldn't have happened."