The board of directors of the Play Relations Committee yesterday called a meeting of the 26 club owners, after eight of them requested a special session to discuss how to proceed in the stalemated baseball negotiations.
The announcement, made by American League President Lee MacPhail and National League President Chub Feeney, said the meeting, which will take place Thursday in New York, was called "to advise all clubs on the status of collective bargaining negotiations and the current National Labor Relations Board proceedings."
The meeting is anything but routine. The impetus was provided by eight owners, some concerned about a lack of information on the 25-day-old strike and some clearly dissatisfied with bargaining strategy. According to the bylaws of the Player Relations Committee, a meeting can be requested by any three teams in either league.
The American League owners made their request to MacPhail and the National league owners to Feeney. MacPhail, Feeney, six club owners and negotiator Ray Grebey make up the PRC's board of directors. Grebey, MacPhail and Feeney are to attend the meeting.
"I'm really glad we're finally going to talk about these issues and exchange views," said Edward Bennett Williams, the owner of the Orioles, one of the eight clubs requesting the meeting.
Ballard Smith, president of the San Diego Padres, said he had also requested the meeting "to air opinions and come away with a common front. I think we should stay there until we all agree on the direction we should go in."
Eddie Einhorn, a coowner of the Chicago White Sox, another of the teams seeking the meeting, said: "Everybody has been hesitant to do it, because there's a feeling that if you do that, the players association will think you're weak, that it will show (Marvin) Miller that we're divided. But how can we be any worse off than the way it appears now? We're in very bad shape."
Although Einhorn and Smith indicated that their decision to request a meeting was not a reflection of disagreement with the bargaining position of Grebey and the board of directors of the PRC, this is undoubtedly a significant move by the owners, who have thus far been removed from the bargaining process.
John McMullen, owner of the Astros, confirmed that he was one of the owners seeking the meeting.
In addition to the Astros, Padres, White Sox and Orioles, the teams calling for the meeting reportedly are the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians.
At no time during the negotiations have any of the owners been present at the bargaining table. The position of the PRC has been that Grebey is the chosen spokesman, and chief negotiator for the owners, a group too large to have several spokesmen. The owners are reportedly subject to an internal gag order on public discussion of the negotiations and can be fined $50,000 to $500,000.
But in recent days, discontent amoung some owners has been growing. Sunday, George Steinbrenner of the Yankees and Williams said a meeting was a possibility. Williams said the strike was baseball's "biggest crisis since the Black Sox scandal." Smith said: "I don't look on it (the meeting) as an uprising. When you've been on strike as long as we have been, it's time to get together and collectively give some thought (to the situation). There must be movement on both sides."
The executive board of the Major League Baseball Players Association is scheduled to meet tonight in New York. "There's no question both sides need a meeting and to spend as much time as necessary and come away with a common front on how to deal with it," Smith said. "I don't see how it can be done without a meeting. My point is not (that) I disagree with the bargaining team, but the situation is apparently a stalemate, and I think it would do everyone good to get together."
Einhorn said he did not consider this a revolutionary move by the owners. He regards the meeting, he said, "as an informational thing" and a chance to unify the owners and their bargaining committee.
"I hope to remove the three categories (of owners) and come out with one category. The way it's being perceived, there are the militants represented by Mr. Williams, the hardliners and the middle of the road guys like myself and Jerry (Reinsdorf, Einhorn's partner), which is not too good. A lot of it has to do with information. The new guys feel they don't know enough about it. This all happened before we got here."
There have been 11 ownership changes in the last two years, Einhorn said. "The committee fellows (the board of directors of the PRC) were here before and they tend to be hardliners. We had the feeling things weren't getting across. I look at it as an informational thing. We want to be told what's happening by Ray Grebey, and I hope we will all come out 100 percent behind our position."
Perhaps, he added, "If everyone knows the facts, maybe we can get back on the right track."
Before negotiations broke off Saturday, the owners made a proposal, which placed a lid of 12 on the number of free agents requiring compensation in the form of a professional player. The players rejected the proposal.
"We may have made some mistakes before, but we've made some moves," Einhorn said. "We've shown good faith. They have not. . . Why no response?"
The move by the owners was precipitated when hope that had surfaced earlier was dashed by Saturday's meeting. The optimism was based partly on erroneous reports that the players had agreed to abandon their proposal for pooled compensation.
"I was called Thursday and I was given the impression that the players were substantially changing their position," Williams said. "I was misinformed, as were other owners, of the basic facts."