Representatives of the baseball owners and players met for 3 1/2 hours today and, despite a new management proposal, the only signigicant movement was the return of Marvin Miller to the bargaining table.
Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, had not participated in negotiations since the players went on strike. After today's talks, his tone was much the same as it was when he left on June 12: "The gap between us is so wide it defies my vocabulary to describe it."
Miller called the owners' new plan "an outrage. . . It assumes that a player is a piece of property, that they own him, just as if somebody came along and took part of your equipment -- whether it was a car or a tractor, you would feel you had a legal right, a moral, ethical right to get something back in return. Players are human beings and those rights don't exist."
Miller called management's proposal "impossible and I think they know it."
Bob Boone, the National League representative who had often served as the players' spokesman in Miller's absence, interrupted. "I don't see it as progress. I still lost another day of pay" -- his 20th. The strike has now caused the cancellation of 251 games.
Federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett scheduled another meeting for 10 a.m. Thursday, but debunked any notion that the early session signified an expectation of something good.
Moffett said no significant progress was made and that the tone of the meeting was "less than terrific, though not that bad."
That glum assessment was reinforced by Reggie Jackson, making his first appearance at the negotiations since the strike began. Asked if there would be baseball on the Fourth of July, Jackson said, "Have a nice barbecue."
And the All-Star Game? "I don't think there'll be one," he said.
That evaluation was based in part on the players' reaction to the owners' proposal, a modification of the one they made last Wednesday. Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, described the proposal as "a very significant move" but conceded that the answer to the question of whether they are any closer to a settlement "deserves the interpretation of both parties. There are still wide differences between us."
Today, the owners proposed reducing the percentage of players requiring compensation in the form of a major leaguer from 50 to 40 percent and putting a maximum on the number of Type B free agents (those falling between 25-40 percent of the top players in performance statistics) that could command that compensation.
Today they proposed:
There be a maximum of eight Type B free agents in any single year. The number of Type B free agents would be determined by subtracting the number of Type A free agents from 12.
Clubs losing a Type B free agent who did not fall among the top eight would receive two amateur draft picks as compensation, one from the team signing the free agent.
The performance statistics used to rank free agents would be based on an average of the two seasons prior to free agency, and only one season for a player in his sixth year in the majors.
Clubs participating in the reentry draft would be able to pass two rounds before being eliminated from the bidding, instead of once, as they have previously suggested. The players want a team to have to pass in two consecutive rounds before being eliminated from the bidding.
Don Fehr, general counsel of the players association, said, "They fixed the headlights. They'll still talking about 40 percent of the players and the 16th and 21st man as compensation. The rest is cosmetic. At this point, it's meaningless."
But the return of Miller was not. Miller removed himself from negotiations because, he said, players were getting the message that he was the obstacle to a settlement. The decision to return was prompted, he said, by the fact that "those same owners now said there couldn't be a settlement unless I come back."
Boone, looking on, said wryly, "We really didn't want him. He just forced his way in."
Boone said he believed the players were becoming more belligerent, that "they are taking a beating financially and they'll be damed if they take a beating on compensation too."
Boone was interrupted by a fan who had found his way into the press conference. "What about us?" the fan asked.
Boone sighed. "I don't know of you've ever been booed by 40,000 people," he told the fan.
"Not me," said Reggie.